To the communities around the Fires of 2020

 


Last year was the worst wildfire season for western Oregon and the Willamette and Mt. Hood National Forests in decades. As for the Forest Supervisors of these National Forests, we saw firsthand how the fires affected the lives of our communities, employees, and loved ones; it has been both heartbreaking and uplifting.

We witnessed some amazing moments: community members and Forest Service employees coming together to support each other; donations literally coming in by the truckload; local, state, and federal agencies and community organizations catalyzed around critical priorities; and firefighters who lost homes and quarters themselves putting in long hours working to fight the fires to save a neighbor’s home. People all around our fire-affected communities demonstrated strength, compassion, and resilience.

As formidable as the 2020 wildfires were, the human response was even greater. Now, months later, our hearts are heavy as we continue to assess the immense damage caused by the fires. Large swaths of dead and fire-weakened trees, cherished recreation sites burned, favorite campsites gone -- the affected landscapes will not look the same as they did before September 2020 in our lifetimes. It’s hard for us – and we’re sure it’s hard for you – to see how these fires and the beginning of recovery work have impacted so many of our beloved places. However, the forests will regenerate. Much like our communities, the forests are also resilient.


Most of the impacted forest areas will be left alone to recover naturally over time. There is already vegetation emerging from the charred soils, and we are developing reforestation plans for areas where we think natural regeneration may be less successful. Where needed, we’ll plant seedlings in high-severity impact areas to allow reforestation to occur at a quicker pace.


Reforestation is vitally important, but it is only one aspect of our fire recovery efforts. Our immediate focus is to continue to address safety issues that could harm people. This work is required before we reopen portions of the Forests for everyone to use and enjoy. This work includes testing burned structures that may have hazardous materials and disposing of the debris to make the areas safe. It also includes identifying, cutting, and sometimes removing trees damaged and killed along our roads and within our recreation and administrative sites before opening these areas to more general access. It’s important that our trusted partners have access to restore vital infrastructure such as powerlines and communication towers. Additionally, burned picnic tables, boat ramps, trail bridges, signs, and toilets will need to be replaced before recreation sites can be opened for use.


Because of the scale of impact, this work is going to take us time. It’s also going to require cooperation, understanding, and resilience.

While we work to recover from last year’s record fire season, widespread drought conditions and a busy fire season are already upon us. It’s critical now more than ever that we work together to prevent human-caused wildfires. Before visiting your national forests, please check ahead to learn if there are any current fire restrictions where you plan to recreate. For more information on fire prevention, restrictions, and recovery efforts, visit the Mt. Hood and Willamette National Forests’ websites. For fire weather forecasts and daily fire season updates, visit the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center website.


We know that our public lands are incredibly important to so many of us. We are entrusted with managing these public lands on behalf of the American people for current and future generations. This is a responsibility that we humbly accept and take seriously.

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to reach out to our communities to let people know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Thank you for your patience and efforts in support of our combined recovery.

Dave Warnack

Forest Supervisor, Willamette National Forest

Duane Bishop

Acting Forest Supervisor, Mt. Hood National Forest

 

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