Preventing a massive wildfire often means short term compromise. In Central Oregon, controlled burns are conducted in order to mitigate and prevent serious wildfires that have both ecological and anthropological ramifications. “If we don’t [prescribe burns] we are going to have a severe fire like Pole Creek, that puts heavy concentrations of smoke in Sisters,” said Sam Pearcy, fields technician for the United States Forest Service in the Deschutes National Forest. Pearcy is a graduate from Central Oregon Community College with degrees in both fire science and fields management.
After the Pole Creek fire, Sisters saw economical ramifications due to the heavy concentrations of smoke in town, according to Pearcy.
According to oregonforests.org, the Pole Creek Fire was started by a lightning strike on September 8, 2012, and destroyed 26,000 acres of forest.
“Its kind of a trade off of a little tiny smoke now versus a lot of smoke later,” Pearcy added.
Foresters have learned that previous methods of fire suppression performed during the turn of the century, which included the swift suppression of any fire, ended with worse wildfires due to the buildup of fuels such as leaf litter and dead plant material, acting as kindling. Throughout the centuries the Oregon forests have adapted to recurrent wildfires, which are now considered vital for the overall health and ecosystem, according to Trevor Miller who works as the fields assistant management officer at U.S Forest Service at Bend-Fort Rock Ranger Station said,
“Central Oregon is a fire adapted ecosystem for the most part, a high percentage of our land has always seen fire and always will see fire,” Miller said. “The primary objective with prescribed fire is return fire to the landscape in a controlled manner, to mimic the natural role of fire on the landscape.”
Applying education to forest health
COCC offers two different forestry programs, an associate of science program designed for students looking to transfer to a four year institution and an associate of applied science program designed as a technical degree to get students directly into a working environment, according to Ron Boldenow, professor of forestry and forest resources technology.
“Usually a student will have to do a couple seasons of work before getting a permanent job, but most of our better students get permanent jobs within a year or two of graduation,” said Boldenow who is also the department chair for natural and industrial resources at COCC.
“Critical thinking and problem solving are very important characteristics of forestry technicians and foresters,” Boldenow added. While those in forestry jobs often work independently, foresters and technicians also need to be good at the ‘human dimensions’; the ability to write, communicate orally, and get along with other people.
Michael Gary | The Broadside