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Report: Critical Forest Streams Don’t Need Help Post-Fire

Critical forest areas along streams can recover quickly from forest fires— if they're left alone.

That's according to a new study from Oregon State University researchers.

Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey looked at the study, and has this report.

Government agencies such as the Forest Service sometimes respond to wildfires by quickly trying to rehab stream areas.

They’ve done things like cut down trees or plant non-native grasses to prevent erosion — or they've dumped hay bales in the water to change it’s flow.

Jon Rhodes: “Good intentions, with fire, often go awry.”

Jon Rhodes is a hydrologist in Portland. He’s previously studied forest restoration work post-fire, and says this new research could help settle the debate about the best way to help forests recover.

Jon Rhodes: “If you leave these systems alone after a fire, they come back quite well.”

Jessica Halofsky is a research ecologist with the University of Washington and the Forest Service. Her study was published in the latest issue of the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

She looked at two mammoth-sized fires in Oregon – the Biscuit fire in 2002, and the B&B complex fire in 2003.

She found critical stream habitat recovering in less than 5 years.

Jessica Halofsky: “Because of their importance, I think there was question as to whether there should be management in these areas that would be more for ecological goals.”

Halofsky says her research suggests that the agencies may be able to take their foot off the gas a little bit – and let the habitat repair on its own.

Dominick DellaSalla is the chief scientist for the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy in Ashland.

He says the Forest Service aggressively tries to rehab stream areas, in the same way it aggressively fights fires.

Dominick DellaSalla: “The whole operation of forest fires is very militaristic. And when you are fighting fires near somebody’s home, I can see the value in that. But, again, when you get into the backcountry we need to be more cautious in how we manage those lands. It’s certainly on the minds of agency folks when they look at their bottom line and they have no money in the bank to do anything but fight forest fires.”

Scientists say this new research into post-fire forest work conforms to our growing understanding of wildfires.

Instead of looking at as a problem, scientists say,  we need to realize that they contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem.

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