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:: Home > The Watershed > Hot topic: Fire > Fire's Role
Fire's Role in the Forest...
new growth after fire, ©Karen Wattenmaker

Because fire has always been around, plants and animals have learned to live with it and to benefit from it. Most animals can move out of the path of an approaching fire, or burrow safely underground. Browsers such as deer and elk eagerly move back to an area in the first year after it has burned, because fire usually stimulates new plant growth which is tastier and more nutritious.

Some insects are attracted to burned areas. They attack and deposit their eggs in trees that have been weakened by fire.

Some plants can't reproduce without fire! For example, the seeds of some pines are released only after the heat of a fire has opened the cone.

Many tree species have thick bark to protect against fire. Ponderosa pines lose their lower limbs as they grow, which helps keep fires from burning up into their crowns.

pine cone opened by fire, ©Karen Wattenmaker
Low-intensity surface fire, ©Kari Brown Historically, fire has helped to maintain healthy and balanced forests, particularly in the drier forest types in eastern and southwestern Oregon. Fire periodically removes understory vegetation and some trees, ensuring that the remaining larger trees have enough light, water, and nutrients to thrive and grow. Forest managers in the early 1900s recognized the value of "light burning" and used fire as a technique for clearing the understory and protecting large pine trees.
In the wetter forests of western Oregon, fires occurred less frequently but burned more intensely. By removing entire forests, fires created clearings that could be colonized by new plants and animals, increasing the overall biodiversity of the area. Douglas-fir is one well-known example of a fire-dependent plant.