At left, an area where both thinning and controlled burning took
place before the Bootleg Fire. At right, an area where no
thinning or controlled burning took place.
photo by Brady Holden/The Nature Conservancy
In Southern Oregon, the Nature
Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and Klamath Tribes set up
what became one of the nationís largest outdoor
Instead of racks of test tubes,
however, this laboratory was populated by thousands of acres
The experiment: To determine how best
to manage forest land to reduce the damage a wildfire
The Nature Conservancy, which owns a
vast swath of forest land, thinned one portion, performed
controlled burns on another portion and did both on still
another. Other portions were left unmanaged to serve as
controls that would allow scientists to compare the
The catalyst was the Bootleg Fire, at
400,000 acres one of the largest wildfires in the West this
What the experiment showed was
fascinating and provides a giant step in the direction of
determining how best to manage forests.
It found that the portion of the
forest left unmanaged was incinerated. Feeding on the excess
fuels, the fire turned trees into charcoal, and the soil was
transformed into a dead zone.
So much for the theory that forests
should be left unmanaged.
The sections that were thinned or that
had been managed using controlled burns fared much better.
The damage was significantly less than that sustained by the
But the section on which both thinning
and controlled burns had been performed fared best of all.
The evidence clearly shows that
thinning and controlled burns together significantly reduce
wildfire damage. Most of the remaining trees are alive and
will quickly rebound from the fire.
Beyond that, fighting a wildfire in a
forest that has been managed is far easier than one where
the forest is unmanaged. Towering flames that leaped from
crown to crown and laid waste to the forest were replaced by
much smaller flames that could be extinguished.
In one instance a whirling fire
tornado was knocked to the ground when it blew from an
unmanaged forest section to a managed section.
Thereís still lots of work to do.
Scientists need to put numbers to the observations and help
others come up with follow-up experiments that replicate and
expand upon this experiment.
Our hope is the impact of livestock
grazing in forests will be included in future experiments.
This will determine the value of grazing as a means of
reducing the underbrush that feeds wildfires.
We also live in an era of a changing
climate. We need to find ways to reduce the size and number
of wildfires, which spew millions of tons of carbon dioxide
into the atmosphere.
It is better to sequester that
greenhouse gas in trees or lumber by managing the forests
than to release it in catastrophic wildfires.
Thatís something on which reasonable
people can agree.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: