Scientists have said that there's a good chance that forest fires in the Pacific Northwest will become larger and more frequent, which could actually aid ecosystems.
The future of fire in this region is difficult to predict, will always be variable, and undoubtedly a part of the future landscape.
People should understand, however, that fire is not only inevitable but also a valuable part of forest ecosystems and their management, according to John Bailey, an associate professor in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources and Management at Oregon State University.
"Forests historically had more fire across much of Oregon, and they would love to have more today," Bailey said.
"Burning is a natural ecosystem process and generally helps restore forest ecosystems. It's ironic that we spend so much money to stop fire, because we should learn to see fire as more of a partner and not always an enemy," he added.
"Many experts are warning that global warming and drought stress in forests may make them more vulnerable to frequent, larger and hotter fires," Bailey said.
That may be true, he added, although future predictions can't be made with a high degree of certainty, and there will still be a wide amount of variation in the types of fires and acreages burned in various years.
But the more important point, he emphasized, is that even if some of the more dire scenarios are true, they shouldn't necessarily be seen as a crisis.
Frequent fire in Pacific Northwest forests will promote forest composition, structure and function that's more consistent with how these forests grew historically.
"Right now we're spending billions of dollars to prevent something that is going to happen sooner or later, whether we try to stop it or not, and something that can assist us in sound land management," Bailey said.
"It may always make sense to put out some fires when they threaten communities, or in other select circumstances," he said.
"But periodic fire has always been a part of our forests, and we need to accept it as such, sort of like how we plan for and accept a very wet winter that comes along now and then," he added.
Much recent research has explored the ways in which fire helps treat fuel loading issues within stands and across landscapes; reduces competition for moisture and nutrients; develops complex orest structure; helps maintain the health of surviving trees and leaves them better able to resist disease and insect attack; and sometimes sets the stage for forest renewal.