Oregon's Wildfires: True Costs, Predictability, & Prevention

Presented to the Bend, Oregon C;T;V (Citizen; Voter; Taxpayer) Group

August 27, 2014

By Dr. Bob Zybach

This presentation was made at the invitation of Jack Holt, Chair of the Bend C;V;T (Citizen; Voter; Taxpayer) Group, based on information and opinions expressed during an interview by Lars Larson on July 28, 2014. The Larson interview is available as both a 16-minute MP3 recording and as a transcript:

Larson, Lars and Bob Zybach 2014. "Global Warming & Oregon Wildfire History," Lars Larson Radio Show, KXL FM 101, Portland, Oregon, July 28, 2014: 16 minutes.



The presentation was attended by about 30 people, including all three Deschutes County Commissioners and US Senate cadidate, Monica Wehby. The program consisted of 46 PowerPoint slides, all of which are available as PowerPoint (PPT) or PDF files:

Zybach, Bob 2014. Oregon's Wildfires: True Costs, Predictability, & Prevention. PowerPoint presentation to Bend, Oregon C;V;T Group, July 28, 2014, Bend, Oregon. Published by Oregon Websites & Watersheds Project, Inc., Philomath, Oregon and NW Maps Co., Cottage Grove, Oregon: 46 slides [PDF_13_MB; PPT_42_MB].

Jack Holt wrote a detailed summary of the meeting for his C;V;T email network that was distributed August 31, and is printed below. A large number of the program slides consisted of a single photograph with a one- or two-word label, depicting key points that were being illustrated for discussion; but several slides (about half) contain reproductions of news articles, detailed text, or maps with too much detail to consider in limited time, so most of the latter slides are individually reproduced below (the complete sets, including photos, are included in the PDF and PPT files linked above):


Jack Holt Summary: C;T;V August 2014 RECAP

C;T;V Group of Individuals,

The August 27th C;T;V meeting on fires and forest management was illuminating. Dr. Bob Zybach's opening comment was one to ponder throughout his entire presentation: "If forest fires are predictable, they are preventable." He received his degree in Forest Sciences at OSU, and that piece of Beaver logic worked, even for a Duck. Of course, OJT as a reforestation contractor for 20 years before enrolling at OSU probably played a role as well.

Dr. Bob had several slides to emphasize key points of the presentation. The slides didn't require squinting at lines of difficult-to-read words to get the message across, as each picture was truly worth 1,000 words. The 3 areas focused on were:

* Total costs of fire. Some of the direct costs would include fire suppression, property damage, recreation facilities, historical buildings, and power lines. The indirect costs might include soil, wildlife, vegetation, health and water (like Bend's surface water source). There is also human life to consider. The costs of effective forest management were compared to the cost of fighting fires and subsequent costs associated with the fires.

* Causes of fires. There are really only two primary causes of forest fires; lightning and humans. The susceptibility of forests to fire is heightened by passive management practiced on publicly managed lands. The passive management has been increasingly practiced on public land, while the management on private and tribal lands tends to be actively managed. There is no evidence that the cause of recent catastrophic fires can be blamed on global warming. As Pogo sagely said, "We have discovered the enemy and it is us." There is evidence that more days and effort are spent fighting fires, but suggestions that fire seasons are 60 - 80 calendar days longer are debunked by traditional fire patterns.

* Predictability of forest fires in Oregon was particularly interesting. Overlaying a map of Oregon fires on areas of known forest conditions and lightning strikes made cause and effect abundantly clear. Fires are Dr. Bob's specialized area, and you can get some idea of how he has so accurately predicted catastrophic fires. It makes his job of predicting much easier when there is a beetle-kill forest, passively managed that encourages undergrowth, in recreational areas known for lightning strikes. Do you recall recent news reports of 2,500 lightning strikes a night in Central Oregon? The history and effect of bug kill in the 1994 B+B Complex Fire was the subject of study at a conference in California attended by Dr. Zybach just prior to this presentation was commented on.

There was a lot of respect expressed for stewardship of the land by Indians. They apparently understood sustainability and the need for healthy forests and grasslands. The Indians practiced good forest and land management for 100s of years. That area of study by Dr. Zybach points out some of the errors in history that public forest policy is based on. Efforts to re-create a 'pre-settlement' (prior to white settlement in the early 1800s) 'natural' Northwest forest are based on erroneous history, and exaggerate the impacts of logging and white settlement. The extent of American Indian involvement in altering forest landscapes is downplayed. In other words the plan strongly suggest that forests that were here before white settlement began were somehow more 'natural' than are present-day forests. The error further leads to the belief that pre-settlement forests were "naturally functioning ecosystems" untouched by human hands. The historical facts will show people have been altering the character of this region's forests for at least 11,000 years.

Comment was made on the August 26th Bend Bulletin editorial concerning the collaborative efforts on the Wolf project in the Ochoco National Forest. This article suggest the difference between science and politics in managing our natural resources. An August 30th article in the Bend Bulletin about the Blue Mountain Eastside Restoration Team also suggests the conflict between science and politics with statements like 'looking into the strategic fuel breaks program to determine how they can get it properly planned and implemented', setting "good fires" and "we're working with nature instead of trying to fight nature." Bill Aney commented, "Because we can't keep doing what we're doing." We'll see how long it takes to implement a plan and whether it will be based on politics or science as they try to "catch up with Mother Nature."

It was terrific that our 3 Deschutes County Commissioners could be there, as the County is actively involved in forest policy. Commissioners expressed a genuine interest with comments and questions for Dr. Bob and the group during the Q+A.


Candidates for office in the November election had a chance to say a little about their candidacy and talk with those at the meeting one-on-one. The informal times are a great opportunity for C;T;V individuals to 'vet' candidates and express opinions on what's important to them. Those on the stump included:

* Dr. Monica Wehby, candidate for U.S. Senate.

* Tony DeBone, candidate for reelection for Deschutes County Commissioner.

There was also a review of ballot measures 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91,and 92. C;T;V is all about issues, and understanding these 7 measures are important as we will vote on regulations and laws having significant effect on Oregon and its citizens, not to mention our economic vitality.

There you have it. The RSVPs were appreciated for this very informative meeting.


Jack Holt

541 420-8585



Also by Dr. Zybach:

Select Articles: 1982 - 2014

Public Letters & Editorials: 1978 - 2008; 2009 - 2014

Interviews (Radio, Magazine & Newspaper): 1980 - 2006; 2007 - 2014

Oral Histories: 1976 - 1988; 1989 - 1999; 2000 - 2013

Presentations: 1983 - 2003; 2004 - 2009; 2010 - 2014

Reports: 1990 - 2013


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