OSU professor: Many local towns face risk of California-like wildfire destruction

John Bailey is a professor of silviculture and fire management at Oregon State University. Silvicuture is the practice of growing and cultivating trees.

John Bailey, an Oregon State University College of Forestry professor, told KATU the wildfire destruction that's currently devastating parts of California could happen here.

“There are hundreds of those kinds of communities in the foothills of the Sierras, in the foothills of the Coast Range, in the foothills of the Cascades," Bailey explained Friday, saying many of the fires in California were preventable.

Bailey said it's all about forest management, which involves properly thinning out trees in certain areas, removing fine fuels or kindling around them and conducting controlled burns to help prevent massive, powerful wildfires.

The professor of silviculture and fire management has studied and fought wildfires for nearly 40 years. Silviculture is the practice of growing and cultivating trees.

"There's nothing particularly unique to Paradise," Bailey said, referring to the town in Northern California that wildfire recently destroyed. "These kinds of communities are all over the place and face very similar risk.”

Bailey said he drove through Paradise with his family this year on the way home from spring break.

"You could see that it was just, it was a disaster waiting to happen," he explained, saying that around the town he saw "an overgrown forest with lots of fuel.”

Bailey said there are similar conditions all over the Pacific Northwest. He said the overgrowth is due to years of a lack of proper land management.

"Nothing has disrupted that over time and all of those acres have grown together better and that’s what allows landscape-level fire to just flow right into the wildland-urban interface and into the town," he said.

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, championed that set aside more than $20 billion for wildfire prevention. Wyden said it's meant to stop the U.S. Forest Service from using prevention money to fight wildfires, which are getting worse, and creating a vicious circle.

The agency released a prevention plan in August and so far Bailey likes what he sees.

"Yes, this is good stuff – the calls for change, proactive management, and building on the cohesive wildfire strategy," he told a KATU reporter.

Bailey also said, "We can't log our way out of this problem."

“Some of our logging practices have and still can actually make the fuel situation worse," he explained, adding that if properly managed, "commercial timber removal, logging kinds of activities could be part of the picture on some of those acres. It’s nice because then it actually provides some of the financing to get some of the fuels treatments done.”

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