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U.S. Forest Service chief calls 90-day nationwide halt to prescribed burns, citing ‘extreme fire risk conditions’

Prescribed burn
KTVZ file
Prescribed burn

Deschutes National Forest rep says it won't have a significant impact on wildfire season

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- The chief of the U.S. Forest Service on Friday ordered a 90-day nationwide pause on prescribed burning projects due to "extreme wildfire risk conditions," a pause that will affect some planned Deschutes National Forest projects, though a forest spokeswoman expects no significant impact on this year's fire season.

Here's the full U.S. Forest Service chief's statement, followed by comments from Deschutes National Forest spokeswoman Jean Nelson-Dean:

Statement of Forest Service Chief Randy Moore Announcing Pause of Prescribed Fire Operations on National Forest System Lands

Washington,  - Today, because of the current extreme wildfire risk conditions in the field, I am initiating a pause on prescribed fire operations on National Forest System lands while we conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools and practices ahead of planned operations this fall.  

Our primary goal in engaging prescribed fires and wildfires is to ensure the safety of the communities involved. Our employees who are engaging in prescribed fire operations are part of these communities across the nation. The communities we serve, and our employees deserve the very best tools and science supporting them as we continue to navigate toward reducing the risk of severe wildfires in the future. 

Before prescribed fire ignitions ever take place on the landscape, extensive planning occurs. Landscapes are analyzed for prescribed fire treatments and the effects on community well-being, vegetation, hydrology, threatened and endangered species and other values. Extensive standard operating procedures to authorize prescribed fires include developing and coordinating a burn plan, site preparation, public notifications, weather and forecast monitoring and validation before a decision is made to go ahead.  

In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned. In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires.  

The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation. Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.   

Wildfires are increasingly extreme because of climate change, drought and dry fuels across many parts of the country. Prescribed burn operations are essential tools managers need to protect communities and first responders, improve forest conditions and reduce the threat of extreme fires.   

The Forest Service oversees the nation’s largest prescribed fire program and safely conducts an average of 4,500 prescribed fire projects annually, treating more than 1,400,000 acres of National Forest System lands. As identified in the 10-year Confronting the Wildfire Crisis strategy, it is imperative for the Forest Service and partners to work together to increase fuels treatments by up to four times current levels in the West, including using prescribed burning as well as mechanical and other treatments.  

The pause I am announcing today will have minimal impact on these objectives in the short- and long-term since the agency conducts more than 90 percent of its prescribed burn operations between September and May.

Nelson-Dean said, "We would be looking at this time of year, wit the weather conditions, whether it's appropriate to burn or not. We plan these two-plus years in advance, so we have a lot on the shelf. We're fairly used to prescribed burns being in and out of the window. It's always a weather-dependent kind of activity.

"Would we still want to do more work this year? Yes, we would," she said. "But this isn't going to change wildfire season for us, or really any of our activities. It's just putting a pause on what we would have accomplished this spring."

Nelson-Dean said Moore's statement about how 99.84% of prescribed burns occur as planned is "an important message for the public. We have a lot of proven success with our fuels treatments. Based on the chief's guidance, we will do a pause and see what happens for the fall and winter."

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  1. Mr. Moore is a genius. Duh, we’re in a drought but we don’t need these so called experts to tell us it not good to start a forest fire. Logging was far safer and the state got revenue from it. Just more progressive idiocy.

    1. I’m not an expert, but I’ve never seen a prescribed burn that deliberately burned down trees. They were done to preserve trees for logging.

  2. Despite average snow pack all over the west right now. All this drought fear mongering is part of their agenda. My friend was on the prescribed burn today south of sunriver and said there was snow in spots in the shade. There’s well over 100 inches up below south sister. It’s all an agenda driven bunch of bs. Not that the burns work anyway. They typically kill 40 percent of the trees in a burn. Logging is the one amd only management tool that’s been proven to work and provide jobs/county timber payments.

  3. Why are decisions like this made in a top down fashion? I would think conditions vary depending on location, the United States is quite large after all.

    1. The agency is in damage control after a prescribed burn escaped in New Mexico a few weeks back and quickly progressed into the state’s largest fire on record, some 400k acres last I checked, and thus far has consumed 68 structures. It’s still growing. The area had been under red flag warnings for several days prior including the day of ignition. Needless to say, there is not a lot of faith in the system right now. Hermit peak fire.

    2. It’s top down because an important election is coming up. The powers that be are more concerned about covering their own ass, they aren’t really concerned about yours.

      Later in the summer when the inevitable fires happen anyway you can be sure that these same bureaucrats will posture as our heroes and saviors.

      1. Speaking in general, I’m so glad I and so many people I know don’t have the 100% sour mindset/world view of so many of our commenters about govt., business, those on the “evil other side.” There is still, thankfully, a fertile middle ground between naïve and 100% cynical, and that is called realistic – that the world isn’t completely gone to hell OR perfect. To think that the other side wants to destroy the country, etc etc. is so very said. Sure, it has big challenges, the biggest being keeping folks civil and willing to consider other points of view, work together, etc.
        Yeah, yeah, kumbaya. NOT.

        1. This was a knee jerk reaction to a mess in NM. The local biologists think that the fuels should be managed now, not next fall. The biologists were overruled by politicians in DC.

  4. Haven’t heard of a local response yet- Is Oregon going to cooperate- give our charred and battered lungs a break this spring- or go rogue under the Kalamity Kate typical dictator-like agenda of “We make our own rules- it’s why our state has had some of the worst air quality “on the planet” the past four summers !

    1. FACTS (NOT speaking to this troll, whom I encourage all to ignore, as most do):
      Those who read the whole article SEE the “local response” we got from Deschutes NF after this news broke late Friday. Of course they are going to pause burning under the national order (which BTW does not include the BLM only national forests.) With fire season fast approaching, wasn’t much burning time left anyway.
      Our thick summer smoke was from wildfires, some from other states as well (smoke blows), not from escaped prescribed burns.

      1. Gee- I guess when I said “a local response”- I expected a reporter to get someone on camera from not only Dashoots- but maybe Ochoco also- both departments are notorious for creating unhealthy skies in the spring- then we get blasted again in the summer. I can pull the AQI’s if anyone needs any proof- our CO skies have been worse than Beijing- Dehli- Mexico City ! Oregon should have taken the initiative on this years ago- but then again…. Kalamity Kate !!!

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