PICT Lowline Fire in Gunnison County as seen July 27, 2023 - USFS

Northwest states, fed collaborate on prescribed burns to fight wildfires

Lowline Fire in Gunnison County as seen July 27, 2023 - USFS
Eric Tegethoff

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(Oregon News Service) State and federal agencies are collaborating to increase the use of prescribed fires in the Northwest.

Prescribed fire is the controlled use of burns to minimize the larger risks of wildfires and smoke. It is seen as an increasingly important strategy as wildfire seasons pose greater threats to the Northwest.

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Casey Sixkiller, Northwest regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said authorities want to work together to maintain forest habitats.

"Prescribed burn is one of the best tools we have for making our forests more resilient against catastrophic wildfires and they help to manage and target hazardous fuels and make for healthier forests," Sixkiller explained.

Sixkiller pointed out the EPA is involved because wildfire smoke poses risks to people's health. The collaboration is between federal agencies, departments in Oregon and Washington, and tribal governments.

Sixkiller noted the collaboration needed a formal agreement to move forward.

"That is what we've been able to do here with this agreement," Sixkiller emphasized. "To get federal land managers and states and us all in the same room, making sure that we're all on the same page about what success looks like."

Sixkiller added the collaboration has another advantage: It helps drive engagement with communities potentially in the path of prescribed burns.

"They have the confidence that the effort that's gone into planning that activity has been thought out from soup to nuts," Sixkiller acknowledged. "And that they have a seat at the table and are being engaged and their concerns are being addressed as we go forward with that activity."