Fire is as natural to Pacific Northwest forests as-is the rain, wind, and sun. East of the mountains, fire has long maintained dry-side forests, keeping them open with a rich understory of shrubs, flowers, and grasses. West of the Cascades, Native Americans used fire to keep prairies and oak woodlands free of conifers, maintain huckleberry patches, and renew early seral habitat that attracts elk and deer.
Today, vast stands of young Douglas-fir and decades of fire-suppression east of the Cascades have left many forests vulnerable to pests, disease, and high severity wildfire. As a landowner, you can take steps to improve your forest’s overall health and prepare your property for fire.
Below you’ll find resources to help your forest and protect your home and property from fire damage.
Create a Fire-Resilient Forest – Questions to Begin With
Looking thoughtfully at the land you steward is a critical step to reducing wildfire risk and improving your forest’s overall health. Forest management and restoration activities that proactively prepare for wildfire are far more effective and less expensive than reactive firefighting. Below we’ve listed questions you should be asking of yourself, your land manager, and your neighbors.
If you’ve never done any thinning or fuel-reductions work on your forest — look around and ask:
Are there a lot of fuels present?
Dry down wood, branches low to the ground, tall grasses — these ladder fuels are vegetation (dead or alive) that connect the forest understory with the tree canopy, thus creating a route for surface fires to climb from the forest floor to the canopy.
Are stands in my forest overcrowded, dark, and dense?
If you’re not sure, it’s probably time to find out. You can use NNRG’s woody biomass calculator to do an at-home assessment of the stocking and productivity of your forest.
How can I balance the objectives of fuel reduction and wildlife habitat improvement?
We have an answer for this one already! Try SLLOPPS (Snags, Logs, Legacy, Openings, Patches, Piles and Shrubs). Ken Bevis of Washington DNR describes in this post how particular treatments can create healthier habitat and more fire-resilient forests. Here’s the six-minute video version of the same concept.
Is it time to create a management plan for my forest?
Developing a management plan will help you you establish your goals for your land, identify and describe current resources, and develop a timeline and set of strategies for achieving your goals. To learn more about how a management plan can shape your forest, please contact Kirk Hanson at 360-316-9317 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve done fuel reduction or thinning work in your forest in the past, ask:
How have stands in your forest changed since the last thinning activity?
If you’ve already done some fuel-reduction work, we commend you! But don’t rest on your laurels—keep pace with your forest as it continues to grow! If your forest is still considered overstocked, it might be time to do additional thinning.
Did my last management practice leave a lot of slash piled on the ground?
Slash is the woody debris left behind after a thinning, pruning, or limbing or other harvest practice. It’s also the perfect fuel source for a small fire trying to get bigger. Make sure to always clear slash 25-50 feet from roads to maintain fuelbreaks. Move slash away from the base of trees and don’t build slash piles close to structures. Slash is an important material for creating habitat piles and constructed logs — just keep these features away from roads, bases of trees, and structures.
What do surrounding properties look like?
Share the work you’ve done to make your forest more fire-safe with your neighbors — it might inspire them to consider doing the same, which benefits both of you.To learn more about how a management plan can shape your forest, please contact Kirk Hanson at 360-316-9317 or email@example.com.
Do-It-Yourself Fuel Reduction Practices
Depending on the state of your forest, fuel reduction and forest slash treatments may be ways you can improve your forest’s resilience to fire. Below are resources for how to take on fuel-reductions projects yourself.
- General information on slash treatments and their benefits
- WA DNR Forest Practices Guide – Here’s where to find help if you’re interested in harvesting timber, building or repairing forest roads or culverts, thinning your forest, or want to know about other forest practices. You can apply for a forest practices permit and find forest practices forms, fees and technical requirements to follow when working in the woods here.
- More information on fuel reduction practices
- Forest Slash Burning Guidelines – These are good guidelines that are used by forest landowners, land managers, and fire department personnel in planning and conducting safe and effective forest slash burning in woodland situations. Guidelines are for Colorado but general practices are still relevant to the PNW.
- OSU Fuels Reduction – Great article by OSU that explains all of the different methods of fuel reduction and how to do them.
- WSU Puget Sound Extension Forestry Resources – Provides educational resources to forest owners on a variety of topics ranging from taxes to native plants and shrubs. Checking out the fire resource might be especially helpful.
Protect Your Home From Wildfire
Creating defensible space, being ready to act, and mitigating the risk of starting a wildfire yourself are some of the best steps you can take to protect your home and family in the event of wildfire.
Concrete and critical steps to prepare for wildfire at your home:
- Create defensible space. There should be at least 30 feet of ignition-resistant landscaping to provide a fire break around your home. Read more about how to design a Firewise yard.
- Weed-whack tall grasses and brush around your house, and remove leafy debris. Defensible space requires constant vigilance, especially during the fire season. Dry leaf litter, pine needles, and dry grasses are fire’s best friend — so keeping those fuels trimmed and swept away from your house is an essential part of maintaining defensible space. Mow your lawn and dispose promptly of cuttings and debris. Keep your gutters, eaves, and roof clear of leaf and twig debris.
- Make sure your irrigation system is working well. If a fire should start nearby (and you have time to prepare for it) wetting the ground around your home will help prevent the fire from spreading. Make sure your irrigation system is functioning, and that you can reach every part of your home with a hose or sprinkler.
- Properly screen all vents into your house to prevent embers from entering.
- Store your flammables safely. Store firewood and other flammable objects (lawn mowers, oil or gas cans, propane tanks) at least 50 feet away from your home. Keep the areas around those objects clear of dry brush and leafy or woody debris.
- Prepare your space for firefighters. Make sure the roads to and on your property are in good condition, and that a fire truck would have adequate room to navigate them. Wide turnaround spaces free of trees and other obstacles will make the firefighter’s work a little easier.
- Mark your house address clearly. Firefighters need to be able to find your property in order to protect it. Get a 911 address sign to help first responders navigate.
- Create an emergency kit for everyone in your household. Put together an emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, snacks, water & water bottles, a portable weather radio, basic tools, a flashlight, work gloves, fresh batteries for each piece of equipment, clothing, extra phone chargers, blankets, baby items, prescription medications, extra car and house keys, extra eyeglasses, credit cards and cash, and important documents, including insurance policies.
Minimize the risk of starting a fire while working in your forest:
- Watch where you park your car. The undersides of cars, particularly catalytic converters, can get very, very hot. The exhaust pipe is another problem area. Whenever possible, not park your car over dry grass, brush, or leaf litter. Stick to gravel, dirt, or rocks.
- Check your car for low parts that could spark. Low-hanging mufflers or chains that drag or bump the ground are liable to spark. If you’re towing a vehicle behind your car, make sure any tow-chains are fastened tightly enough so that they don’t drag.
- Check and regularly maintain your tires. Once a flat tire shreds, the bare wheel can shower sparks on roadside vegetation.
- Keep a wildfire kit in your car. This might include a shovel, work gloves, protective goggles, and a fire extinguisher.
Funding Fuel Reduction and Forest Health Projects
Below are some resources for finding funding to create a fire-resilient forest.
Programs in Oregon
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) – EQIP provides landowners with financial and technical support in order to implement conservation practices that will strengthen the ecological resilience and diversity of the forest – fortunately, applying slash treatments (EQIP code 384) is merely one of the ways in which this objective can be accomplished. If you are interested in applying slash treatments to your forest and would like to apply to obtain funding through EQIP, contact your local NRCS office to discuss the projects you have in mind. NRCS has also provided a handy quick guide for basic information on slash treatment options, eligibility and more. For more information about EQIP, check out our EQIP page.
- Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) – ODF can help landowners with a minimum of 10 acres develop a forest management plan by providing up to 75% cost-share reimbursement through their Forest Stewardship Program.
- Local and state-wide Firewise Grants/Assistance – Contact Oregon’s Firewise Liaison for more information:
Jenna Trentadue, National Fire Plan Coordinator
Oregon Dept of Forestry
Office: +1 503 945-7210
Programs in Washington
- Cost-share application through DNR and US Forest Service for Eastern Washington forest landowners – Landowners interested in having a forester assess their forest or applying for cost-share practices such as thinning, pruning, or slash disposal can have up to 50% of total costs covered. Another version of the application here.
- King Conservation District cost-share funding – The District’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) provides landowners with cost-share assistance to support implementation of conservation practices on private property. Landowner expenses associated with pre-approved conservation practices are matched with KCD cost-share funding at a ratio of 50% to 90% of the total cost of projects – LIP funds 75% of forest management practices.
- Funding for Eastern Washington landowners – Joint Chief’s Landscape Restoration Partnership provides financial and technical assistance to Eastern Washington forest landowners. WA DNR will be offering thinning, pruning, treatment of forest slash and forest management plans. Contact NRCS at (509) 685-0858 extension 115 or DNR at (509) 684-7474.
- Washington’s Firewise program – Firewise is a nationwide organization that provides cost-share incentives for fire prevention, holds community workshops and trainings, and develops county-wide wildfire protection plans. The Firewise grants are administered to individual conservation districts who then choose landowners. Contact your local conservation district to learn more.