Forest fires are currently raging along the West Coast. Here in Clackamas County, when this time of year rolls around, we cross our fingers, hoping wildfires will not start on our property. Use that reasonable concern or fear to energize you to make plans to create a fire resistant landscape for your forestland.
Things to consider when making your plans
Control invasive weeds
Blackberry and scotch broom are common ladder fuels for wildfire.
Himalayan blackberry is a highly invasive plant that replaces native vegetation in forestland. The control of Himalayan blackberry can be a difficult task. Our WeedWise Program has great information on how to manage blackberry.
Manual removal of Himalayan blackberry can be an effective control option, but it is labor intensive and often a difficult and painful process. Cut large plants at ground level and remove root crowns and large lateral roots. It is important to remove as much of the root system as possible to prevent regrowth. This method will need regular follow-up to remove new growth and seedlings. While effective, this process heavily disturbs soil and increases the erosion potential of a site. This method is not recommended on steep or unstable soils.
If you cut the top of the plant, leaving the roots behind, there will be rapid regrowth from the roots. This is when landowners may want to consider using a targeted herbicide application on the tender new shoots as a target for the chemical. Please remember that before using any herbicide product it is important to read and follow the label instructions.
Scotch broom is a fast-growing shrub in the pea family. It has masses of yellow flowers and forms dense stands that are shade intolerant, so you find it on the edge of forest property or in many harvested areas. As with Himalayan blackberry, the control of Scotch broom can be a difficult task. The seeds have a hard coat that allows them to survive up to 30 years in the field. Our WeedWise Program has great information on how to manage Scotch broom too!
Manual removal of Scotch broom can be an effective control option especially for smaller infestations, but it is labor intensive. Pull small plants between January and May when the soil is moist for easier removal. Continued manual removal until the seed bank is exhausted is one of the most effective controls for Scotch broom. It is helpful to note that while manual removal can be an effective treatment, it can cause heavy soil disturbances and bring seeds to the surface, creating a new generation of growth.
For old, established stands, cut Scotch broom between ground level and three inches using loppers or a saw during the dry season (July to August). To limit spread, try to cut before seed pods mature. Young Scotch broom plants will sprout following cutting from above the root crowns. Older plants generally will not sprout following a cutting. For best control, landowners may want to follow-up with a targeted herbicide application once new sprouts appear.
Mowing to control Scotch broom is possible, but the process must be repeated at regular intervals to exhaust the plant. Mowing is not a very effective control by itself, however, when used in conjunction with herbicide application, it can be very effective. Note that mowing equipment can transport seeds if not cleaned before leaving the site.
Avoid major weed removal disturbances in the spring and early summer when native birds are nesting and other animals have young offspring.
Reduce forest density
Trees which are growing too close together are especially at risk for wildfire hazards. Thinning will improve tree health as well as reduce fuel for wildfire. Another practice to help reduce excess fuel is to prune lower branches to increase the distance between the ground and your lowest tree branches. This reduces the chance that a fire started on the ground will spread up into the tree canopy. It is important to control ladder fuels on forest edges as that is where fire is most likely to start.
For detailed information regarding fuel reduction and safely disposing of the woody material that these practices generate, visit this Oregon State University website.
Maintain a defensible space
Do not forget to protect your homes and out buildings. Take some time to step back and look at your home through the eyes of a firefighter. There are many structural as well as landscape considerations. As always, control invasive weeds and mow firebreaks on grass, especially near roads, where many fires start. For more information about home and landscape fire preparedness, visit this Firewise USA website.
Have an emergency plan
In case of wildfire, do you know the phone numbers for appropriate agencies to contact (for example, the fire department and Oregon Department of Forestry)? Do you have an evacuation plan and know alternative routes of escape? Do you have water sources, like a pond or stream, which may be utilized in the event of a fire? If you do not have good answers to these questions, you may want to get started developing an emergency plan. Wildfires never happen at a convenient time.
A good resource for emergency planning is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Download their document titled “How to prepare for a wildfire” here.
Use this information to get started on a very important component of wildfire safety, your emergency plan.
Not all fire is bad
Historically, much of our landscape in the Willamette Valley was managed using fire as a tool (prescribed fire/controlled burning). Fires do help control disease and insects, reduce fuel buildup, and promote biological diversity. However, there are also downsides to forest fire, including soil damage and erosion. You will find many sources of information on both sides of the “wildfire as a management tool” debate if you search the internet.
In any case, protecting yourself and your forestland is a wise investment of time and energy!