Bend is likely to be smoky this year. If all goes well, however, a relatively few smoky days in spring and fall will help keep the air cleaner in summer months and reduce wildfire threat. That’s a good thing.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s new rules on prescribed burns went into effect March 1. Under them, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry should be able to get more of the pre-emptive burning done before the forests that cover much of Central Oregon dry out in the summer heat.
That, in turn, should reduce the chances that we’ll have another August like the one in 2017, when skies were dark with smoke into September. As a result, air quality was bad enough to force cancellation of a variety of outdoor events in the area.
Under the old rules, agencies working to reduce forests’ fuel loads with planned fires were expected to keep smoke out of nearby communities. Too often, that was impossible: In Bend, for example, smoke comes out of the higher mountains and settles along the Deschutes River. That can delay or cancel further burning. A new, less stringent, measure, will be used under the new rules.
The prescribed fires could make forests healthier and more fire-resistant by thinning and reducing fuels on forest floors. The new policy could mean more smoke is likely on occasion in Central Oregon towns. While that’s undeniably a problem for sensitive and vulnerable populations, it’s better for everyone to be able to plan for it than have it only be dictated by wildfire.