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How Do We Best Manage Western American Forests for Wildfire?

Our non-profit parent company, Sustainable Northwest, advocates for policies and actions that improve forest health and reduce wildfire risks to our communities. We are proud to share a new storymap they created in partnership with fire science researchers that outlines science-based adaptation strategies for fire-prone western North American forests, including restoring active fire regimes and fostering resilient structure and composition of forested landscapes.

Sustainable Northwest converted Adapting Western North American forests to climate change and wildfires: 10 common questions into a visually accessible and user-friendly story map using ArcGIS. This peer-reviewed research paper was written by a team of well-respected researchers in the fire science field and was published in Ecological Applications (December 2021).  See the final storymap HERE

Authors: Susan J. Prichard, Paul F. Hessburg, R. Keala Hagmann, Nicholas A. Povak, Solomon Z. Dobrowski, Matthew D. Hurteau, Van R. Kane, Robert E. Keane, Leda N. Kobziar, Crystal A. Kolden, Malcolm North, Sean A. Parks, Hugh D. Safford, Jens T. Stevens, Larissa L. Yocom, Derek J. Churchill, Robert W. Gray, David W. Huffman, Frank K. Lake, Pratima Khatri-Chhetri


ADAPTING OUR COMMUNITIES & FORESTS TO 21ST-CENTURY WILDFIRES

Growing partnerships and collaborations are building new ways to manage forests that work with fire on our terms, rather than wait until it rages out of control. Here are actions we can take to adapt our communities and forests to 21st century wildfires:

RESTORE FORESTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT FIRE-ADAPTED ECOSYSTEMS

Forest restoration projects are most effective when they are informed by science, planned collaboratively, and at landscape-scale (meaning projects with enough acreage to significantly impact fire behavior and resistance to drought). Alongside planning and implementing more of these projects, we can support policy incentives to remove barriers to increased use of prescribed fire and wildfires managed for resource benefits, including incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and expertise. To restore forests and other important fire-adapted ecosystems, we can incentivize ecological forestry and conservation actions in forestry and across different ownerships.

GALVANIZE COMMUNITY PREPAREDNESS AND LAND USE PLANNING

We can make wildfire less of a hazard to human life and property by engaging with communities to support programs that create defensible space, building or retrofitting structures with fire-resistant designs and materials, and mitigating smoke impacts to vulnerable populations.

CULTIVATE A RESTORATION WORKFORCE AND ECONOMY

To cultivate a restoration economy and a workforce to support it, we can develop markets that support using the additional benefits of restoration, like cleaner water or carbon sequestration, where it is economically feasible and ecologically appropriate. Supporting innovative harvest technologies, such as smaller, more maneuverable harvest equipment can reduce the costs of harvesting smaller density trees. Developing the number of contractors who specialize in ecological forest restoration is essential. Presently, there are not enough people trained in prescribed fire use, ecologically-appropriate thinning, and other approaches to meet the demand on the ground.

INCREASE INVESTMENT TO MAKE THE ABOVE GOALS ACHIEVABLE

We can and should increase investment from all levels of government and the private sector to support the goals described above. Investing in wildfire resilience will be far less expensive in the long run than facing 21st-century mega-fires with the status quo approach to forest management and wildfire suppression.

ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE

While forest health is a significant contributor to extreme fire behavior, so is a warming planet. We need to develop and support policies that transition away from fossil fuels to more renewable sources.



SUSTAINABLE NORTHWEST WOOD GETS TO WORK

As viewed above, many of the solutions to adapt our communities and forests to 21st century wildfires include resilient changes to our economies and communities, and unique market approaches. Sustainable Northwest Wood’s mission is to foster a wood products community where each purchase for the built environment ensures resilience in the natural one. SNW Wood’s values include utilizing restoration to help our forests live in harmony with wildfire. A case study from SNW wood is their Restoration Juniper. Juniper is a native species found throughout the high deserts of the West. Decades of wildfire suppression have allowed it to take over what was formerly a high desert grassland ecosystem. Its out-of-control population growth and thirst for limited water supplies lead to erosion and a loss of biodiversity. The removal of juniper is helping restore this fragile ecosystem, improving habitat for threatened Sage Grouse, salmon and other wildlife, restoring the flow of water in tributary streams in this arid region, and providing economic development in rural Oregon.

Sustainable Northwest Wood’s partner nonprofit, Sustainable Northwest, is working on wildfire-related issues on multiple fronts. To learn more about their wildfire initiatives, check out their wildfire initiatives HERE.

GET INVOLVED

Support legislation that helps address wildfire! Then check out resources through Oregon Prescribed Fire Council, Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network, and Oregon State Universityto learn more about forest management that works with fire.

For questions and comments, reach out to:

Cadence Purdy
Private Forestlands Program Associate
cpurdy@sustainablenorthwest.org

Kaola Swanson
Forest Program Director
kswanson@sustainablenorthwest.org



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