forest fire and smoke

The city of Bend and Deschutes County have spent at least two years working to update their smoke management plan. The city was the first in the state to submit a plan to the Oregon Department of Forestry, and now it’s the first to have one approved. Its hard work has paid off.

State approval came in a Dec. 7 letter from the Department of Forestry and the Department of Environmental Quality. It gives the city some freedom from restrictions on smoke from prescribed burns, but it does not completely exempt Bend from the rules.

It is, in other words, a reasonable balance between clean air and the prescribed forestland fires that improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire. The burns are designed to mimic the relatively cool fires that have swept through the region for thousands of years. Those natural fires disappeared about 100 years ago, when forest management focused considerable time and effort to keep forest from burning at all.

Yet, as we’ve learned, those natural fires were a good thing. They kept the region’s forests healthy — fire allows lodgepole pine to reseed, while ponderosa pine’s thick bark protects it while killing other plants that rob it of water. They may even reduce the danger of wildfires that threaten lives and homes in Bend.

Bend, then, has good reason to wish for a bit of smoke every now and then. With it, we should be able to avoid some of the smoke and destruction of property that comes with large wildfires.

Under the approved smoke plan, Bend residents may well see smoke on more days than they do now. What they’re unlikely to see, however, is smoke from prescribed burns that hovers in the air for 24 hours or more.

Moreover, a new website, Central Oregon Fire, makes finding out when and where prescribed burns are planned a simple thing. That, in turn, should help those who are particularly sensitive to smoke avoid it.

The city and the agencies it’s worked with on the plan have had to come up with something that, if it doesn’t make everyone fully happy, does aim to prevent the worst smoke days and the fires that cause them. It’s a good compromise that could help make dangerous wildfires a bit less likely.

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