The wildfires last summer have opened our eyes to the immediate threat that fire can pose to some of our favorite forests and ecosystems. Just one spark can grow into a full-blown flame in forests that aren’t managed properly, especially with the rapidly changing climate. Happily, the McDonald and Dunn Research Forests managed by OSU are being kept as safe as possible.
Stephen A. Fitzgerald, Professor and Extension Silviculture Specialist and Director of the College of Forestry Research Forests told The Advocate that there are Fire Plans in place for both the McDonald and Dunn Forests. Part of those plans involves management practices that decrease the risks of wildfire. Some of these practices include thinning tree stands wider above and below roads which reduces the potential for crown fire, removing roadside trees to create more canopy gap creating a more effective fire break, and restoring meadows by removal of invading trees to create more of a gap and improve the habitat of the meadow.
“Around buildings we have been removing trees, thinning stands, and pruning up trees,” Fitzgerald wrote in an email interview. “After timing harvesting, we clean up slash – fire hazard – to reduce potential for future fire. We conduct fuel reduction through mastication and herbicide in selected areas, such as along Hwy 99 and at our Oak Creek areas.”
Currently, there isn’t any fire research happening within the forests themselves, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t research on wildfire happening at all.
“One researcher in the College of Engineering has harvested some small trees,” Fitzgerald said, “and is doing some ember research.” This research involves burning the trees and measuring the size and number of embers created based on type of tree.
The work being done in the research forests benefit other environments around the world in a number of ways as well. “A bulk of the research we do relates to management [of] forests because that’s what society and the public is interested in. If we manage a forest one way, what effect does that have on tree growth, wildlife aesthetics, [and] recreation,” Fitzgerald said.
Research in the forests has been happening for almost 100 years. “Since 1926, over 450 different research projects have taken place,” Fitzgerald said. “Research that occurs here is diverse and covers wildlife, tree physiology and tree stress, thinning methods, silvicultural systems, forest genetics, creating mature forest conditions, timber harvesting and aesthetics, along with stream and hydrology studies.”