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Oregon / Washington

Why Do Prescribed Burning?

Fuel Accumulation
Fuel Accumulation


Fire has always been a natural disturbance process that is essential to healthy ecological systems across the landscape in the western United States. In the early 1900s, land management agencies sought to suppress all fires in an effort to preserve the timber supply and other natural resources. Fire suppression policy was effective and over the decades fire exclusion has contributed to the increased amount of vegetation (live and dead) on the landscape. Increased vegetation (fuel) has increased the risk of having large uncharacteristically severe wildfires in our forests, rangelands, and near communities. Some forests and rangelands are more vulnerable to environmental stress (drought, insects, disease, and invasive species) without the role of low intensity frequent fire. To reverse this trend fire needs to be reintroduced to the western landscape to help enhance the capabilities of firefighting resources to safely respond to wildfires and improve the ecological health and resiliency of our public lands.

Fire as a Tool

Low Intensity Underburn
Low Intensity Underburn

Prescribed fire (also called controlled burning) is an important tool that is applied to the landscape in a planned and controlled way. Land management agencies use prescribed fire in a safe and carefully planned manner to help reduce wildfire risk to communities, municipal watersheds and other values, as well as restore natural ecologic processes and functions, and to achieve integrated land-management objectives. In many cases pre-treatment of the vegetation must be completed before prescribed fire is applied. Pre-treatment of vegetation usually involves the thinning of trees and/or shrubs mechanically or by hand with chainsaws. The first entry with prescribed fire may be in the form of pile burning to initially reduce the amount of thinned vegetation on the ground or used when understory or broadcast burning are not an option. The following entry with prescribed fire may involve either an understory or broadcast burn on the land to mimic the natural process. See the prescribed burn terminology tab for more detailed information.

There are many potential goals that can be achieved by using prescribed fire. Here are a few examples:

  • Reduce surface and ladder fuels that contribute to increased risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfire.
  • Reduce risk and help to safely protect local communities from wildfire.
  • Help protect natural resources such as timber and critical habitat.
  • Promote native species and reduce encroachment of invasive species.
  • Enhance landscape resiliency and recovery from a wildfire event.
  • Improve firefighter ability to safely and effectively respond to and suppress wildfire.