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:: Home > Forests and Timber > Reforestation > Site Prep > Prescribed Burning

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How many of us have worked on a slash-piling crew, piling the slash into piles to be burned after the first rains fall? How many of us have lugged a drip-torch down a burn unit, burning the slash where it fell? Burning is called "prescribed burning" because it is a tool that foresters use on certain areas of land for many reasons, including preparation for planting— like medicine prescribed from a doctor.

Burning the slash after a selective harvest Foresters use burning as a management tool, since fire is nature's principal way of preparing Oregon's forest for a new stand. Many of Oregon's timber trees, like Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine, owe their dominance in Oregon's forests to fire. They have evolved to be tolerant of occasional fires and will out-compete other tree species as a result.

Burning is common on logged units awaiting reforestation because it clears the soil for reseeding or tree planting. It is also popular because it clears ground on steep areas where machines can't weed or expose the soil, and it produces large, easily planted areas without large machines that may compact the soil; and fire costs less.

There are tradeoffs: when the slash isn't removed some animals that damage trees, like the woodrat, mountain beaver, and porcupine, can use slash as hiding cover, avoiding predation and having easy access to nearby seedlings. However, when burning is used to remove the slash, it also clears the way for the regeneration of certain plants that are good forage for browsing animals like deer and elk, attracting these animals that may end up nibbling on the new trees as well!

Unfortunately, while fire is an inexpensive tool, controlling these fires can be expensive. Also, the smoke produced from these fires can occasionally be a nuisance for people living nearby. Finally, burning the slash also results in the loss of some soil nutrients. For these reasons, other ways of site preparation are used when burning isn't the best method for preparing the unit.