Fire Management

Forest Fire Ecology

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Forest Fire Ecology

A burning stumpThe area that burned during the Eagle Creek Fire is part of the “wet” West Cascades, which is comprised of a Douglas-fir dominated forest. Fire in any given stand of this type of forest is much less frequent, and historic records suggest that – aside from human causes – these fires only tend to occur every 200 years or less. The “fire interval” is the amount of time — could be years, decades, or centuries — between wildfires. This is useful for understanding what type of fire frequency the plants and animals in any given type of forest ecosystem have adapted to. In the West Cascades, which is climatically very wet, the return interval tends to be on the scale of 100 – 400 years. When these fires do occur, history has shown they are often intense, very hot fires that can burn large stands of trees.

Note that is strikingly different from the “east end” of the Gorge, which is dominated by drier forests and grasslands. These drier ecosystems burn more frequently, but if they are managed using periodic prescribed burns, the severity of any given fire is often less, due to the decreased “fuel loads.”

Burn Mosaic

Screenshot of fire ecology flier showing first returnersWhen wildfires do occur – whether human-caused or natural – they often result in a patchwork of severely burned, moderately burned, and lightly or unburned areas called a burn “mosaic.” This mosaic is actually good for the forest because the green areas aid in the process of reseeding and regenerating, while the more severely burned areas provide open spaces that offer habitat for different types of species. 

In the coming years, the slopes of the Gorge will provide opportunities to discover and chronicle the regeneration process. Fire Ecology -The Resilience of a Forest (.pdf)

The Resilient Landscape


Post fire erosion is determined by combination of climate, topography (including slope), surface rock armoring needle caste or litter fall and fire severity. 

In this video US Forest Service Hydrologist Diane Hopster discusses post fire erosion and the resilient landscape within the Columbia River Gorge.

Forest Health and Wildfire


Improving forest health and reducing risks to communities requires partnerships among federal and state agencies, tribal governments, fire departments, communities, and landowners.

This video highlights some examples of how a diverse array of stakeholders are working together and learning to live with fire.