Oregonians in forested areas may see smoke from a number of controlled burns – known as prescribed burns – this fall and winter.
Forest landowners use prescribed fire to eliminate woody fuels that build up on their land from forest thinning and after timber harvests.
More than a million acres burned in the Labor Day wildfires of 2020 in Oregon, with more than 800,000 more acres this year, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF). Much of that was in prime forestlands. Landowners have been trying to salvage their investments by harvesting whatever dead or dying trees are large enough and not badly burned enough to still be marketable.
In some cases, the harvest volume exceeds the average annual harvest by a wide margin. This results in a larger amount of slash or unmarketable felled snags needing to be burned to clear land for replanting and to reduce wildfire risk.
This year’s fall burning season continues to coincide with ongoing concerns related to COVID-19, the ODF said. Smoke may worsen symptoms for people coping with compromised health or lung function due to COVID-19. However, thanks to the wide availability of vaccines that are highly effective in preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 infections, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) believes it is appropriate at this point in the pandemic to move forward with controlled burns as regulated by ODF smoke management rules. The updated smoke management rules minimize smoke from entering certain populated cities and areas known as Smoke Sensitive Receptor Areas (SSRAs) and encourage proactive communication.
To protect Oregonians, trained professionals, monitor controlled burns to ensure that fires are lit when fire danger is low and weather conditions are favorable for protecting SSRAs communities from smoke, according to the ODF.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and partner agencies monitor smoke levels and air quality across the state. DEQ’s Air Quality Index provides current air quality conditions categorized as good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous. Sign up for text of email alerts about air pollution. View current air quality conditions online or by searching for OregonAir on your smart phone.
ODF has developed a Statewide Communication Framework for helping Oregonians:
- Understand why we burn.
- Health risks of smoke.
- Ways to avoid smoke.
- Where burning is taking place each day.
- Where smoke is impacting communities.
This communication plan is updated annually, distributed to partners and is posted to the ODF website here: https://www.oregon.gov/odf/board/Documents/smac/20211026-statewide-smoke-communications-framework.pdf
In addition to the Statewide Communication Framework, ODF and DEQ recommend communities that are SSRAs and have experienced repeated smoke incidents and/or intrusions in the past collaboratively develop a community response plan and program. DEQ received special legislative funding to assist with the development and implementation of community response plans.
DEQ, with support from the agency's partners, is seeking proposals from local governments to develop comprehensive community response plans for smoke. DEQ will award approximately $300,000 for community response plan development and the identification of potential mitigation strategies that could be deployed to protect the public and most vulnerable from prescribed fire smoke.
Projects must be conducted within the timeframe of Jan. 1, 2022 through March 30, 2023. DEQ expects to award multiple contracts and will consider grant requests up to $40,000. For grant requirements and additional information, please review the Smoke Management - Community Response Plan Development Projects Request for Proposals.
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