A Forest that Needs Fire

A Forest that Needs Fire

Wildfire was here before us. For millennia, our region was shaped by fire, and our mid- and lower elevation forests (think forests of ponderosa pine and mixed conifer species around Sisters, Bend, and Sunriver) were maintained by frequent, low-intensity fires, every ten to twenty-five years.

These natural fires are essential for stimulating fire-dependent trees and plants, maintaining wildlife habitat for certain species, cycling nutrients and sustaining other important functions of the forest ecosystem.

So our forests need fire. But European settlement brought alterations to this ecosystem. Here’s how we’ve slowly created the forest restoration predicament we now face.

  • Settlers brought livestock by the hundreds of thousands to the east Cascades to graze on the abundant grasses growing across the forest. This removed many of the native understory plants that carried frequent, light fires through the forest and kept it in balance.

A different kind of fire

This is the type of fire we want to reduce. To do this, we are working restore our dry forests so they are resilient, and can withstand the frequent, low-intensity fires that are a natural part of this ecosystem.

By supporting forest restoration of our lower elevation dry forests, including the use of controlled burning, we can breathe easy, knowing we are neighbors of a healthier, more resilient Deschutes National Forest.

Controlled burns are a crucial forest restoration tool

We share our communities’ concerns regarding health, visibility and livability related to smoke produced by controlled burns.

But controlled burns, which are primarily conducted in spring and fall, are a critical step in forest restoration. Research shows that in addition to sustaining important forest ecosystem functions, they significantly reduce the likelihood of out-of-control fires, the kind that mean danger for our communities and hazardous air for weeks at a time.


  • Controlled burns are carefully planned and implemented under prescribed conditions of temperature, wind and humidity. This ensures they can be safely controlled and reduces the likelihood that smoke will blow into nearby communities.
  • Controlled burns are conducted by professionals with strong ecological understanding of fire-adapted forests, applying decades of on-the-ground knowledge, and cutting-edge fire and smoke modeling tools.
  • All controlled burns must comply with the Oregon Smoke Management Plan to minimize impacts to communities and sensitive individuals.
  • Some smoke in the air is inevitable. For Central Oregonians, our choice is not between "lots of fire" or "no fire". We must choose between an unhealthy forest full of nearly a century of unburned fuel, or a restored forest that is resilient to the natural process of fire. Smoke is part of that natural process. So some smoke in the air is often a sign that important forest restoration work is getting done in a forest near you.

Learning to live with wildfire—and some smoke

Like living in a tornado alley, earthquake zone, or hurricane territory, living in Central Oregon comes with a natural hazard: wildland forest fires. Our best chance of heading off high-severity mega-fires in our forests is to restore the forest to more natural, self-regulating conditions.

This means forest restoration, and the use of controlled burns, to bring back healthier forest conditions.

Please support the use of this essential restoration tool, as we work to bring nature back into balance in the Deschutes National Forest.

Keep informed about smoke in the air and controlled burns:

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