The mission of the North Central Washington Prescribed Fire Council is to protect, conserve, and expand the safe use of prescribed fire on the North Central Washington landscape to meet both public and private management objectives.

No fire is not an option. Browse the latest posts to find out why.

Home of North Central Washington Prescribed Fire Council

The First Annual Washington State Prescribed Fire Council Conference will soon be held. Titled Shaping the Future of Prescribed Fire in Washington – it will be held on March 6-7, 2012 at the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel in Wenatchee, WA. There will be two full days of speakers, panel discussions, breakout sessions, and vendor displays, all with a focus on prescribed fire in Washington.

Featured speakers include Paul Hessburg, David L. Peterson, Jerry Franklin, Tony Harwood, Don Gayton, representatives from prescribed fire councils across the country, and many other regional, state, and local experts on prescribed fire issues. For a full agenda, please visit http://www.waprescribedfire.org/Events.html.

Help shape the future of prescribed burning in the state of Washington:

  • Learn about training, funding, and other opportunities
  • Discuss smoke and liability issues affecting prescribed fire use
  • Network with other committed practitioners
  • Be part of the increasing, national momentum behind prescribed fire councils

Conference registration is now open, so please take a moment to register online (http://www.waprescribedfire.org/Registration.html) or fill out the registration form on the conference brochure and send it in. Your registration fee includes refreshments, two catered lunches, and an evening banquet, and if you register before January 31, and you will save $15! (The registration fee is $60 before January 31, and $75 after.)

Lodging is available at the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel (see information below). Contact them to reserve rooms at a discounted conference rate, and be sure to mention that you are attending the Washington State Prescribed Fire Council Conference.

Vendor and sponsor opportunities are available for interested organizations, companies, agencies, and individuals. Poster presentations may be arranged along with other displays on related topics and projects. For more information, email or call the address below.

Thanks for your interest in the Council and the upcoming conference! Please pass this announcement on to others who may be interested. See you in March!

Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Administrative Coordinator
Washington State Prescribed Fire Council
(707) 272-0637

Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel
Ask for discounts for Washington State Prescribed Fire Council Conference!


Washington State Prescribed Fire Council
Center for Natural Lands Management
The Nature Conservancy
Fire Learning Network
Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils
Center for Collaborative Conservation
Cascade Fire Equipment
USDA Forest Service – Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
Washington State University Extension
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

A video by Tall Timbers shows how prescribed burning improves forest ecology.

Controlled burning provided sunlight for wildflowers to bloom.

Go to the Youtube video.

The video is from Ron Masters, Director of Tall Timbers Research Station in Florida:

The prescribed fire video was based on the focus group sessions across the southeast US.
Ron Masters, PhD
Director of Research
Tall Timbers Research Station
13093 Henry Beadel Dr.
Tallahassee, FL  32312
850-893-4153 ext. 229

Roseburg, Oregon, March 22, 2006 (courtesy of SOS website). By comparing fire scar frequencies with presettlement weather records, Researcher Ken Carloni of Umpqua Community College put together a record that links wildland fire ignitions with First Nations ignitions rather than weather.

Dr. Carloni presented his Doctoral Thesis on “The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon”. An interesting summary of the research is presented at the SOS website.

Dr. Carloni provided advice to land managers:

“Evidence that the indigenous people had an active hand in influencing
the fire regimes that shaped their landscapes has important implications
for current managers. Rather than a conversion of unmanaged land to
managed lands, the changes witnessed in the last 150 years are more
indicative of a change from one management regime to another, with a
brief period of passive management in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The message to land stewards is clear: taking no action will not tend to
return the landscape to aboriginal conditions …”

The Best Forest Research Paper of 2005

March 22nd, 2006

Forest Scientist Discovers Ancient Indian Trail System, Using Computers!

March 22 — by Mike Dubrasich, SOS Forests [reprints allowed without authorization]

An Oregon forest scientist has discovered (or rediscovered, to be precise) an ancient system of trails and campsites on the Umpqua National Forest. Dr. Ken Carloni of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, reported his findings last July in his doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Ecological Legacy of Indian Burning Practices in Southwestern Oregon”.

Using a sophisticated computer system and software (Idrisi GIS from Clark Labs, 2002), Dr. Carloni modeled the most ergonomic (not too steep) and least cost (shortest) travel routes between ten known archaeological sites. The model was field-validated, leading to on-the-ground discovery of the ancient trails and additional sites, including an ancient summer village. The trail and campsite system in the Little River watershed is at least 2000 years old, and was used by Native Americans of the Yoncalla (Kalapuyan speaking), Upper Umpqua, (Athabascan speaking), Cow Creek (Tekelman speaking), and Molalla Tribes.

Strong indications seen in modern vegetation conditions and archaeological artifacts yield evidence of the actuality of Dr. Carloni’s computer-predicted trail and campsite system. Among the evidence is the presence of ancient meadows and remnant open, uneven-aged, park-like forests along the travel routes. Both types of vegetation are thought to have been maintained by anthropogenic fire (Indian burning).

In the same paper Dr. Carloni also reported strong evidence against climate as a controller of fire frequency prior to 1850. He compared precipitation history (derived from previous tree ring studies) and fire history (also from previous studies) with the ages of existing trees to see which factors (climate or fires) influenced tree recruitment, and whether climate history and fire history were correlated. They were not, according to his research:

Fire scar frequencies from 1590 to 1820 show no relationship to precipitation. However, from 1850 to 1950 a significant negative correlation (p = 0.005) exists between climate and scar frequency. These results suggest that in post-aboriginal times [but not earlier] high rainfall years are associated with fewer fires than low rainfall years …

Tree recruitment from 1590 to 1820 is [also] uncorrelated with yearly precipitation … [and] no correlation is evident between fire scar frequency and tree recruitment in the years from 1590 to 1820. From 1850 to 1939, however, dramatic positive correlations exist between fire scar frequencies and tree origins … This suggests that the recently observed short pulses of even-aged recruitment following wildfires (Pickett and White, 1985; Oliver and Larson, 1990; Bonnicksen, 2000) may be more of a post-aboriginal phenomenon.

Instead, Dr. Carloni reported, Native Americans were a prime factor in ancient fire ignition. The landscapes encountered by Lewis and Clark were not pristine, untrammeled wilderness. Dr. Carloni summarizes:

Intentionally or not, humans have been initiators of broadcast burning in nearly every habitat they have encountered worldwide (Pyne, 2001), and there is a long local history of burning for agro-ecological purposes in southwestern Oregon … A growing body of evidence documents the influence of Native Americans on their landscapes through the use of systematic landscape fire (Pyne, 1982; Boyd, 1986; Lewis, 1990; Robbins, 1997, LaLande and Pullen, 1999; Lewis and Fergeson, 1999; Williams, 2001; and others) …

Pacific Northwest native societies were deeply integrated into their landscapes, and used a wide variety of materials collected over extensive areas (Lewis, 1993; Boyd, 1986; Beckham and Minor, 1992; Blackburn and Anderson, 1993; LaLande, 1995; Williams, 2001). But local material cultures persist only to the extent that key species and habitats on which they depend remain abundant, productive and resilient (Perlin, 1989; Diamond, 2005). Archaeological evidence from the Umpqua indicates that material cultures remained relatively unchanged for approximately 2000 years before contact (Isaac Barner, pers. comm., 2000) suggesting that the stewardship practices of recent peoples were sustainable …

Historic Indian-set fires tended toward higher frequencies and lower intensities with regular intervals separating them relative to lightning sparked fires (Boyd, 1999; Lewis and Fergeson, 1999; Williams, 2001).

It was this recognition of the impacts on the landscape, of frequent, regular fires set by the ancient residents, that led Dr. Carloni to his discoveries.

Given the numerous historical reports of aboriginal burning in and near the Umpqua Basin, it is highly likely that the Indians of Little River were using landscape fire systematically for agro-ecological purposes as well. But if Indians were systematically burning forested landscapes, what ecological signals might we expect to observe?

At the landscape level, we should find historic meadows, savannas and parklands located near archaeological sites and near the historic trails connecting them. It is reasonable to surmise that Indians would burn more extensively and more often around the areas where they spent the most time …

The pattern of the modeled pathways fits the corridor, yard and mosaic pattern common to indigenous landscapes in many parts of the world (Lewis and Ferguson, 1999). It is also reflected in early sketches (see 2.16) and in the following quote from S.C. Bartrum, first Umpqua National Forest Supervisor, writing about conditions in 1899 on what is now the Umpqua National Forest: “There were no trails into the interior of the Reserve, only a very few short cattle trails close to the Reserve boundary line. There were of course the old Indian trails, indistinct and impassable in many places, routed to reach the apex of all high points, presumably for observation purposes regardless of location and grade, with grades varying from level to 35 or 40 percent, and some too steep for horse travel.”

Some modern ecologists propose theories of forest dynamics that are altogether natural. However, the historical forest development pathways (what really happened) were mitigated by human beings, and evidence of this can still be found in the field. Dr. Carloni noted that other researchers besides himself have also found strong evidence of human influence over forest development:

Early descriptions of much of the forest as being in an open, park-like state (LaLande and Pullen, 1999) are consistent with the recent findings for stands in the Oregon Cascades and Coast Range (Tappeiner et al. 1997; Poage, 2000; Sensenig, 2002). Tappeiner et al. (1997) found early growth rates of old-growth trees to be more typical of trees grown at low stocking densities (100-120 trees/ha) than of trees currently growing in young, un-thinned stands (often >500 trees/ha). They suggest that periodic, low intensity fire was likely responsible for reducing stocking levels rather than self-thinning.

Vestiges of these open stands and their connections to native management are often found near sites with documented aboriginal activity and are evidenced by (a) very large, old “relic” trees with highly branched “open grown” architecture imbedded in a matrix of substantially younger, even-aged cohorts (Fig 2.12), (b) annual rings from relic trees showing suppressed growth only as far back as the origin of the young even-aged cohort in which they are imbedded (pers. obs.), and (c) origin dates of the even-aged in-growth cohort that commonly post-date the period of Indian occupancy.

Dr. Carloni also noted that in the absence of anthropogenic fire, the vegetation has changed:

A shift in the proportions of tree species across the landscape also suggests a change in fire intensity … and reveals a trend toward recruitment of more fire intolerant “avoider” species (Agee, 1993) (e.g. hemlock, true firs) in the 1820-1990 time span compared to the 996-1820 period. This analysis suggests a change from a high frequency, low intensity fire regime that favored “resistor” species (e.g. Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine) to one that now favors fire avoiders …

While post-clearcut plantations are even-aged (and often single species), native stands in southwestern Oregon typically have a range of sizes and ages distributions … When an even-aged stand is defined as one in which 80% of the trees germinate within 3 decades, only 11 of the 180 stands in these two datasets are even-aged (6.1%) …

While the age and spatial structure (and therefore fuel structure) of young stands in southwestern Oregon increases their risk of high severity fire, mature stands are also at increasing risk. Because of their open understories and lack of contiguous crowns, historic old-growth forests would have been highly resistant to high mortality crown fires. But during the last century and a half, many late seral stands have become thickly in-grown with a younger, shade intolerant conifer seedling cohort dating from the late 1800s through the present.

Finally, Dr. Carloni provided some sage advice to land managers:

Evidence that the indigenous people had an active hand in influencing the fire regimes that shaped their landscapes has important implications for current managers. Rather than a conversion of unmanaged land to managed lands, the changes witnessed in the last 150 years are more indicative of a change from one management regime to another, with a brief period of passive management in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The message to land stewards is clear: taking no action will not tend to return the landscape to aboriginal conditions …

Landscape fires in southwestern Oregon have gone from (1) being regular, frequent, and of low intensity, to (2) being irregular, infrequent, and of high intensity … Increases in the time between fires and the intensity of the blaze have apparently also been accompanied by an increase in the size of fires …

While it is no longer possible to “restore” the forest to aboriginal conditions, it is possible to emulate indigenous ecosystem dynamics. A return to a “corridor, yard and mosaic” pattern is still possible in a warming climate. While a return to native dynamics for its own sake is not a compelling reason to change current management, there are some important ecological and social reasons for doing so …

Since material cultures often reflect their landscapes (e.g. bedrock mortars in acorn country; woven nets, weirs, and traps where salmon run), stable human cultures infer stable landscape resources. And since local material culture was stable for at least 2000 years in southwestern Oregon (Beckham and Minor, 1992), then the pre-Euro-American socioecological system represents the last known stable state …

If we desire a predictable suite of ecosystem goods and services that are comparable (but not necessarily equivalent) to those available to native managers, then historic ranges of ecosystem conditions represent reasonable management sideboards. Given that the historic landscape of the Little River watershed is to a great degree the product of active aboriginal management, it will take active management on the part of land stewards to recreate and maintain analogous conditions.

And some sage advice to researchers, too.

The history of a landscape is intertwined with the history of its peoples; one needs to know both before one can really understand either.

Dr. Ken Carloni spent 13 years on this research, earning his doctorate from Oregon State University part-time while teaching full-time at UCC.

Superfluous notes:

1. Here is another news article about Dr. Carloni’s research.

2. SOS Forests is proud and privileged to bestow these kudos upon Dr. Carloni. To be completely fair about it, however, Ken is a personal friend, a great guy, smart as a whip and sharp as a tack, so we might be biased.

3. UCC now has the status and distinction of having the best forest science faculty of any institution the state of Oregon.

4. Accredited institution, that is. SOS Forests is not accredited, or is self-accredited, which is pretty much the same thing. We don’t need no stinking badges.

Take an online tutorial at your own pace and convenience.


Smoke Management and Air Quality for Land Managers is an openly available online resource designed to meet the needs of federal and state land managers who require a working knowledge of air quality regulations and smoke management approaches. This course is a combination of conventional readings, interactive figures, and supporting case studies to help users.

Bend, Oregon, June 4, 2010. Jerry Franklin and Norm Johnson of the University of Washington presented testimony to the Hearing of Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Link to the full document text

A key message was that:

Restoration of the dry forest ecosystems and landscapes must be the primary focus of our stewardship in the national forests in eastern Oregon and Washington – not narrowly focused efforts that address only wildfire and fuels!

A research paper by Susan Prichard, David Peterson and Kyle Jacobson, demonstrates the beneficial effects of fuel treatments in reducing fire severity in dry, mixed conifer forests.

Prichard, Susan J.; Peterson, David L.; Jacobson, Kyle. 2010. Fuel treatments reduce the severity of wildfire effects in dry mixed conifer forest, Washington, USA. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 40(8): 1615-1626

Abstract: To address hazardous fuel accumulations, many fuel treatments are being implemented in dry forests, but there have been few opportunities to evaluate treatment efficacy in wildfires. We documented the effectiveness of thinning and prescribed burning in the 2006 Tripod Complex fires. Recent fuel treatments burned in the wildfires and offered an opportunity to evaluate if two treatments (thin only and thin and prescribed burn) mitigated fire severity. Fire severity was markedly different between the two treatments. Over 57% of trees survived in thin and prescribed burn (thinRx) units versus 19% in thin only (thin) and 14% in control units. Considering only large-diameter trees (>20 cm diameter at breast height), 73% survived in thinRx units versus 36% and 29% in thin and control units, respectively. Logistic regression modeling demonstrates significant reductions in the log-odds probability of tree death under both treatments with a much greater reduction in thinRx units. Other severity measures, including percent crown scorch and burn severity index, are significantly lower in thinRx units than in thin and control units. This study provides strong quantitative evidence that thinning alone does not reduce wildfire severity but that thinning followed by prescribed burning is effective at mitigating wildfire severity in dry western forests.

Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference

This event will be held in Spokane on October 25 – 29. See this link:


Kah Tai Prairie Preserve blooms profusely after controlled burn

Here is an article by Jeff Chew of the Peninsula Daily news about the benefits of controlled burning to native plants.

Notable Quotable: “The results of that burn have reached their glory this year.” – Botanist Fred Weinmann

See the link above for the full article text.

Click here to view interactive maps of yearly controlled fires on the Methow and Tonasket Ranger Districts. Great resource!

Mild fire or wild fire? Controlled fire helps control wildfires.controlled fire

The Sinlahekin Prescribed burn, October 15, 2005, about 1 mile north of Fish Lake.

Fires on Arid Lands Field Tour, May 12

There will be a field tour, Fires on the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, Wed., May 12th, 2010 9AM-3PM

The tour starts at Horn Rapids County Park

The day’s facilitators include:

-Heidi Newsome and Mike Gregg, US Fish & Wildlife Service
-Matt Davies and Eva Dettweiler-Robinson University of Washington
-Jim Evans, The Nature Conservancy

Please RSVP if possible by May 7th to Julie Conley, SCW Shrubsteppe/ Rangeland Partnership,
Julie.conley@icisrvcs.com (509)248-2238. This event is free, but plan to bring water and your own sack lunch.

Arid Lands Ecology Reserve In 2000 and 2007 thousands of acres of native shrub and grasslands burned in large fires on the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve of Hanford Reach National Monument. The tour will explore the Reserve’s unique landscape and wildflowers and highlight on-going research. This includes work to understand how the fires have impacted these valuable habitats and what restoration techniques can be used to restore native vegetation and control invasive species.

In February, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark wrote a letter of support from Washington’s Department of Natural Resources for the formation of a prescribed fire council in North-Central Washington.

The Commissioner designated Mark Gray as DNR’s primary contact for the North Central Washington Prescribed Fire Council. Gray is the Assistant Resource Protection Division Manager for Fire Prevention and Community Assistance.

This support follows on the 2009 recommendations of the Forest Fire Prevention and Protection Workgroup identified a desired role for prescribed fire as well as barriers to realizing that role.

Ecological Effects of Prescribed Fire Season: A Literature Review and Synthesis for Managers

by Eric E. Knapp, Becky L. Estes, and Carl N. Skinner
USDA-Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station
General Technical Report PSW-GTR-224, September 2009

From the abstract: Most species in ecosystems that evolved with fire appear to be resilient to one or few out-of-season prescribed burn(s). However, a variable fire regime including prescribed burns at different times of the year may alleviate the potential for undesired changes and maximize biodiversity.

Researchers find that chemicals in smoke called karrikins trigger plant genes associated with light sensitivity. The findings demonstrate a need for more controlled fire.

Link to the Los Angeles Times article by Amina Khan

The Inland Empire Society of American Foresters will highlight the fires of 1910 at their 2010 Annual Meeting, May 20-22, in Wallace, Idaho.

fire of 1910

Mine tunnel devastated by the 1910 wildfire.

The 1910 fire is considered to be the largest U.S. wildfire in post-settlement times. Over 3.1 million acres burned in northern Idaho and adjacent states that summer. The fires killed 78 firefighters and 7 civilians. The 1910 fires spurred the newly created Forest Service to embark on a widespread mission to suppress fires throughout the west.

A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology the researchers concluded that widespread prescribed burning could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 60 percent in some forest systems and across the West by 18 to 25 percent.

Christine Wiedinmyer, lead author of the new study and a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, summarized the research. “If we reintroduce fires into our ecosystems, we may be able to protect larger trees and significantly reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by major wildfires.”

The study used satellite observations and computer models of emissions to develop its conclusions.

About the article (more details here)

Title:  Prescribed Fire as a Means of Reducing Forest Carbon Emissions in the Western United States

Authors: Christine Wiedinmyer and Matthew Hurteau

Publication: Environmental Science and Technology

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
February 26, 2010
Contact: Dale Swedberg, (509) 223-3358

TONASKET – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public meeting March 18 to discuss a wide-ranging plan to reduce fire danger and restore the health of forestlands in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area.

Dale Swedberg, who manages the 14,314-acre wildlife area in Okanogan County, will outline WDFW’s restoration plan and answer questions from those attending the meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Tonasket High School Commons, 35 HS Highway 20 E, Tonasket.

“This is a major project with long-term benefits for both the wildlife area and the people living nearby,” Swedberg said.  “But restoring these lands will involve a fair amount of controlled burning and we want to give people a chance to ask any questions and share any perspectives they might have.”

During the coming winter, WDFW plans to begin thinning dense stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir on 1,833 acres of the wildlife area to preserve older, more fire resistant pines and foster growth of vegetation that benefits native wildlife.

Controlled burning may begin as early as this fall in grassy areas to remove the buildup of old vegetation and promote germination of shrubs, forbs and grasses, Swedberg said.

“The Sinlahekin Wildlife Area is long overdue for a major forest fire,” he said.  “Thinning and controlled burning now can help prevent the kind of devastation we’ve seen in other Okanogan County forestlands in recent years.”

Working in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, WDFW plans to complete work on the Sinlahekin Ecosystem Restoration Project in 2012.  Funding for the project was recently provided through grants from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

… Contributes to unhealthy forests.

image of low intensity fire

Good fire = low intensity fire.

This is a presentation by NCWPFC Chair Dale Swedberg from the 2007 Wild Links Conference in Ellensberg (download the 9.5 MB PDF document here).

ScienceDaily (Feb. 1, 2010) – A recent study at Oregon State University
found that past estimates of the number of live trees that burn up
and the amount of carbon dioxide released by wildfires was grossly overestimated.

Fire scientists at Oregon State University studied fires in the Metolius River Watershed in the central Oregon Cascade Range. In one case, they found that only 1 to 3 percent of living trees were consumed by a fire previously reported to have lost 30 percent of the mass of living trees.

See http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100127121532.htm?utm_source

The Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils has a website at:


The website includes a project, “One Message Many Voices” to brand a unified informative common message promoting prescribed fire.

The Climate Central Website has a graphical illustration of the acreage burned by wildfires in Washington State. Not surprisingly, it has gone up radically in the last decade as climate and fire suppression have added fuel to fire.

The Role of Fire in Managing Long-Term Carbon Stores: Key Challenges

AFE maintains that fire is a fundamental component of the Earth’s natural carbon cycle.

Prescribed burning is a controlled reduced-risk management tool used to reduce or mitigate undesirable ecological and socio-economic impacts of wildfires. Carbon emissions from prescribed burning are typically much lower than those stemming from wildfires for the same landscape.

Wildfire suppression and prevention in many fire-prone ecosystems only delay the inevitable return of wildfire.

AFE’s position paper on the role of fire in managing long-term carbon stores was created in response to President Obama’s Executive Order (No. 13514: “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance”) issued on October 5, 2009. This executive order mandated all federal agencies to develop plans within 180 days that “consider and account for sequestration and emissions of greenhouse gases resulting from Federal land management practices.” AFE Board members were concerned that policies intended to minimize carbon emissions from forests might mistakenly propose fire exclusion by further restricting prescribed fire and aggressively suppressing all wildfires. The short time frame and sense of urgency to get fire ecology perspectives into the hands of policymakers prompted the AFE Board of Directors to draft a position paper in time for AFE general members to discuss and ratify it at the Fourth International Fire Ecology and Management Congress meeting in Savannah in early December.

The position paper was drafted by a committee of four AFE Board members (Crystal Kolden, Scott Stephens, Paul Hessburg, and Timothy Ingalsbee), then sent to a select group of issue experts who peer-reviewed the draft. Their comments were incorporated into a second draft that was posted on the member’s section of the AFE website for further review and comment. During the Fire Congress, Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the keynote speaker at the awards banquet, gave a passionate endorsement of the position paper and urged us to promptly get it into the hands of policymakers. The next evening, the paper was unanimously endorsed and ratified at the annual members meeting. AFE now intends to send copies to President Obama and other Administration officials and Congressional leaders. AFE also intends to develop a longer, more comprehensive paper on the issue of fire management and carbon accounting systems for publication in an upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed AFE journal, Fire Ecology.

by Roger Underwood. 2009. A fascinating treatise on the Forest and Fire Sciences web site of the Western Institute for Study of the Environment Colloquium.


Roger Underwood is a renowned Australian forester with fifty years experience in bushfire management and bushfire science. He has worked as a firefighter, a district and regional manager, a research manager and senior government administrator. He is Chairman of The Bushfire Front, an independent professional group promoting best practice in bushfire management.

Human influence on landscape pattern in the Pacific Region: impacts of burning by First Nations and early European settlers (by John Parminter, Research Branch, Ministry of Forests, Victoria, B.C. Presented at the Landscape Ecology Symposium, 76th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for the Advancement of Science. Vancouver, B.C. June 20,1995.)

This presentation described recent research demonstrating the widespread use of controlled fire by First Nations. The work of Stephen Barrett and Steve Arno (Barrett 1980, Barrett and Arno 1982) with the Salish and Kootenai tribes in Montana and Idaho confirmed that native prescribed burning was carried out in ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir and western larch forests mainly to:

improve hunting prospects by promoting desirable grasses and shrubs and facilitate the stalking or driving of game

  • enhance production of certain foods (mostly berry bushes), as well as special purpose and medicinal plants
  • improve horse grazing areas
  • clear campsites as a means of reducing the fire hazard and removing the hiding cover which could be used by enemy tribes during an attack
  • maintain open forest stands to reduce the threat of wildfire and facilitate travel
  • communicate with other groups by setting larger fires, often at higher elevations.

Barrett, Stephen W. 1980. Indians & fire. Western Wildlands 6(3):17 – 21. Spring 1980.
Barrett, Stephen W. and S.F. Arno. 1982. Indian fires as an ecological influence in the northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry 80(10):647 – 651. October 1982.

This extract is taken from botanist David Douglas’ journal for 1826, concerning the Willamette region of Oregon (Douglas 1914):

Most parts of the country burned; only on little patches in the valleys and on the flats near the low hills that verdure is to be seen. Some of the natives tell me it is done for the purpose of urging the deer to frequent certain parts, to feed, which they leave unburned, and of course they are easily killed. Others say that is it done in order that they might the better find wild honey and grasshoppers, which doth serve as articles of winter food.

Douglas, David. 1914. Journal kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America, 1823 – 1827. Published by the Royal Horticultural Society. William Wesley and Son, London, England. 364 p.