Last September, we shared an article about the benefits of controlled burns and other Indigenous practices for wildfire management and mitigation. Now, the Bootleg fire in Oregon is offering up some more evidence to support that Indigenous practices could be lifesaving in a climate change-fueled fire future.
The wildfire was moving rapidly through the state when it came upon the Sycan Marsh Preserve, a 30,000-acre wetland. The region is thick with ponderosa pines and managed by The Nature Conservancy who works with local Klamath Tribes to implement pre-colonial forest management techniques. Thanks to their work, the fire slowed and dimmed as it reached the forest, giving firefighters time to move in and steer the blaze away from a critical research center.
As part of their Indigenous forest management, the tribes work with researchers to conduct prescribed burns and thin out some younger trees. The forest not only helped slow the wildfire’s progression, but damage to the forest was also far less severe than in other areas the flames moved through. Some firefighters even reported wildlife seeking refuge on specially designated “green islands” designed to be avoided by flames under the treatment method.
Hundreds of Native American tribes used to conduct regular controlled burns throughout the west until European settlers outlawed the practice. Unfortunately, centuries of fire suppression, combined with climate change, has created the perfect storm for the severe fires which rage across the western US each summer. As climate change continues to intensify, investment in controlled burns and other pre-colonial management techniques could be the only way to quell the west’s devastating fires.