A Good Fire at Herbert Farm

Later this month, people driving south of Corvallis on Highway 99W might see smoke rising from a location to the west, not far from K&H RV Storage. There’s no cause for alarm, because it will be a prescribed fire, or “planned burn” being conducted on Herbert Farm & Natural Area. It’s “tentatively scheduled” for September 23, but it won’t happen until the weather conditions are right.   

It’s a collaborative project by three local organizations, each of which look at it from a different perspective. To the Corvallis Fire Department, it’s both a training exercise for firefighters and a preventive measure to reduce the chances of a destructive wildfire. To Corvallis Parks and Recreation, it’s a form of maintenance for the 221-acre city-owned property where the burn is taking place. For the Institute for Applied Ecology, it’s an opportunity to remove invasive species. All collaborators are looking forward to testing new theories and techniques involving the use of fire, one of humanity’s oldest technologies.   

Grass seed farmers regularly used “field burning” to control vermin until the 1970s, and a few still do. Long before Europeans arrived, the Kalapuya and other Indigenous people used prescribed fires to care for what is now known as the Willamette Valley. Controlled burns like the one set to take place at Herbert Farm are training a new generation in the art.     

By John M. Burt