Summer Wildfire Risk and Prevention in Buford Park

If the smoke-filled summers we've experienced over the past few years have taught us anything, it's that fire is an increasingly prominent part of our lives in the Pacific Northwest and it's here to stay.
This year's fire season has been mercifully mild with no major lightning storms crossing the cascades and serendipitous rain correlating with the fireworks-heavy 4th of July holiday, but we aren't out of the woods yet. This week's heatwave and dry conditions have increased fire danger across the region and increased the potential for human-caused fire. 
Friends works in Buford Park intensively during summer months to reduce fuels park-wide through mechanical removal like mowing, cutting and pulling. Mechanical fuels reduction often means doing what we would be doing anyway: removing invasive species. Blackberry brambles tucked into woodlands and the resulting brush and woody material are perfect ladder fuels to intensify and carry grass fires up into the canopy of trees. Plants like scotch broom burn very hot thanks to the oils in their leaves and bark, intensifying fires that could otherwise be easily managed. 
One of the most visible means for fuels reduction and wildfire prevention work is mowing, particularly along roadsides where the danger of human-caused ignition is highest. Parking vehicles in tall grass that can contact the underside of the vehicle poses a considerable fire hazard. Friends Lead Land Steward, Zac Miller, adds,

"We understand that parking in the shade is nice, but parking in standing fuels such as grass is very dangerous. ...The catalytic converter underneath cars gets glowing hot, making it easy to light dry grass."  

Friends times mowing activity to be after, or at the very tail-end of, bird nesting season and after many of the most sensitive early-spring blooming species have set seed. This means we have the least impact on plants and wildlife possible, while still reducing the chance for wildfire start and spread.

One of the most powerful and time-tested tools in the fire prevention toolkit is the implementation of controlled burns, also known as prescribed fires. Prescribed fire has been used for thousands of years by the original inhabitants of the Willamette valley, the Kalapuya people, to maintain oak savannas and prairies like those found in Buford Park. Controlled burning has a powerful mitigating effect on wildfire risk, and offers a multitude of added benefits. Intensive research and planning for prescribed fires, including  fuels reduction work, results in the ability to manage the effect fire has on the landscape. A particular fire can be planned to benefit fire-adapted plants that have depended on frequent, low-intensity fire for millennia. Another fire could be planned to burn hotter in areas dense with invasive species and result in conditions that favor native plants. Another prescription could be designed to result in a low-intensity fire that leaves a mosaic footprint of burned and unburned areas, creating bare soil for herbaceous plants' seeds to germinate. This diversity of effects from fire are indicative of its nature. Fire takes many shapes, and the more we work with it for good, the better prepared we will be to predict its behavior and live alongside it.

Reducing the potential for catastrophic wildfire using a number of methods is an ongoing priority for Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah and we continue to hone the best strategies for keeping park visitors, plants, wildlife and the greater Mt. Pisgah community safe.

If you're interested in the fuels reduction work Friends does at Buford Park or curious about prescribed fire and how prescribed burns are planned and implemented, you can find out more at our upcoming Fire and Fuels Tour. More information can be found by clicking Here

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