PNW wildfires are now a year-round event

by Allison Milionis | May 6, 2021

Spring in the Pacific Northwest means longer, brighter days with ample rain and pleasant temperatures. This April, however, proved to be drastically different with only .39” rain in the Portland area. That’s record low rainfall. We also had unusually warm temperatures. Local news sources reminded residents that the dry weather created fire conditions and we were warned to be careful with anything that could throw a spark. 

Although it may feel jarring to worry about fire conditions now, in reality it’s always wildfire season in the PNW if you account for the time required for preparedness and post-fire “cleanup” (more on that below). 

In our 20 years of working with clients to protect burned forests from over logging, we believe it’s critical that we talk about wildfires January through December. The weeks when the region is blanketed by smoke and communities are hurriedly preparing for possible evacuation is not an ideal time to evaluate policy and the best ways to protect our communities, or discussing why wildfires exist and are good for the health of our forests. 

Our blog is one place we intend to take up the year-round conversation. In addition to tracking current events (including our wildfire-related projects), we’ll unpack some of the issues related to the increasing number of wildfires; explain why clear-cutting burned forests is detrimental to healthy forests and in fact, contribute to more intense fires; and the ways communities and homeowners can prepare and stay safe.

Current wildfire issues to follow

In the past few months, local media has been reporting on post-wildfire logging taking place in Oregon forests severely burned by the 2020 fires. Conservation groups and communities in and around the burned areas have expressed their concern about the over-zealous logging underway, which looks a lot like clearcutting in many areas. 

The Forest Service claims post-fire tree removal is necessary for public safety. They refer to this as “salvage logging” (a misnomer by all accounts) and it includes trees close to roads, but also ones deep in forests with old-growth stands. The Forest Service has denied public access to these areas since the fires, making it difficult to truly know the condition of the trees, and raising suspicion that massive logging is underway on public land.  

Now, we’re learning that the situation in our forests is worse than what was first reported. Stories by both OPB and The Oregonian reveal massive tree cutting and mismanagement in the Santiam Canyon – the location of the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires last September. The allegations are so worrisome that Oregon lawmakers listened to testimonies last week from a range of people who worked on the project but were concerned about the state’s haphazard tree removal process. 

Pressure is on Governor Brown to halt the logging to allow time to review the process as well as the Florida-based contractor hired to “clean up” Oregon’s forests.

The way things are unfolding in the Santiam Canyon aren’t new to our region, and certainly not new to Crag. For two decades we’ve been fighting to protect PNW forests from over-management and ill-conceived policies. As the number of wildfires continue to increase each year, we’ll need to be more vigilant and engaged – not only to protect communities, but also protect our forests from destructive practices perpetuated by falsehoods and outdated theories about wildfire and its role in keeping our forests healthy – for centuries to come. 

Look for related articles by staff attorneys Ralph Bloemers and Oliver Stiefel in our spring 2021 newsletter, coming out in June.

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis

Allison Milionis is a writer and editor, and long-time supporter of Crag’s work.  She was born in the Pacific Northwest, left to experience life in a big city, and then returned 20 years later to put her roots back into the rich soil of her beloved PNW forests and fields.