Research after the 2020 Fires

Monday, November 8, 2021 to Monday, November 22, 2021

The 2020 Fires: Opportunities for discovery abound!  Written by Cheryl Friesen, Science Liaison, WNF

In late October 2020, my husband, dog, and I were tucked into an AirBnB after being displaced by the Holiday Farm Fire. Research requests began pouring in even as we juggled cleaning up our destroyed homesite and re-assembling our lives. State and Federal agencies, municipalities, universities, and timber industry research groups were keenly interested in getting into the Labor Day Fire footprints as soon as possible. The fires were historic, creating opportunities to study a dynamic in moist, west-side Cascade forests that had not occurred for a century. I became the point person to handle the inquiries.  With help from Dr. Kevan Moffett (Washington State University), we bundled the early requests into an “Omnibus,” creating collaborative opportunities among various science communities across our large physical and bureaucratic landscape. A year later, research and monitoring has been completed or is ongoing for the 13 parties in the Omnibus proposal and an additional 10 research proposals. Researchers were not allowed into fire areas last fall unless they were escorted by “red carded” FS personnel (i.e., people experienced with safety issues in fire perimeters). We also required sawyers to provide an extra layer of security in case tree-fall blocked safe passage out of the study areas. There remain areas too dangerous to enter: bridges were burned out, plastic culverts were melted, fire-weather-driven mini-tornadoes dropped thousands of trees onto roads in massive piles, and active fire still persists in snags and underground hollows. District Rangers have been both supportive and cautious; balancing safety risk with the eagerness to document post-fire landscapes. While some researchers have been frustrated with the pace, the capacity to respond to their interests, and at times some hard “no’s,” overall the pathway to discovery has successfully facilitated a lot of science. The next several years will be spent digging into post-fire data on issues ranging from upland and riparian vegetation response, mercury mobilization in our streams, smoke-related particulates in our snowfields, changes in landslide risk, alteration in soil and water chemistry, and the capacity for the human community to recover.

Where does Andrews Forest fit into this growing portfolio of fire research? A portion of the Andrews Forest landscape was affected by the Holiday Farm Fire, and some research has been initiated. In the 1980s and 1990s Andrews Forest scientists produced a significant body of fire history science which influenced the Northwest Forest Plan. As we continue to discuss how disturbances affect our landscapes, the Andrews Forest research program has the talent to be on the forefront and will certainly influence the next iteration of PNW forest management.