CORVALLIS – As fires burned around the state last month, Oregon State University’s new Forestry and Natural Resources Extension Fire Program pivoted from educating people about preventing fire to helping landowners recover from devastating loss.
Last spring, the Fire Program team was already dealing with the limitations brought on by COVID-19 by developing an online webinar series about fire prevention and preparedness. But after the Labor Day fires, focus quickly shifted to after-fire care. Post-fire webinars, which are provided free, have garnered more than 1,000 views. Presenters covered subjects like hazard trees, erosion, salvage logging and reforestation. The webinars will continue.
“Given COVID, we couldn’t go out and see the landowners as we usually would,” said Carrie Berger, Fire Program manager and associate program leader of Forestry & Natural Resources Extension. “We’ve reached so many people because it’s online. When we offered workshops in the past, we’d get a handful of people because travel time is onerous in less dense areas like Eastern Oregon. With these webinars we’re getting more than a hundred each time.
The 1-year-old Fire Program, which was formed with an allocation of $2 million by the Oregon Legislature for the biennium 2019-2021, is mandated to facilitate land management priorities, as well as create a healthy understanding and respect of fire through education and outreach.
“The Fire Program was funded by the legislature with the objective to facilitate cross-boundary coordination with partners to help with forest and range management,” Berger said. “We also provide education and outreach for all Oregonians related to fire. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a city, a rural area or the interface between the two, everyone needs that education.”
Four new regional wildland fire specialists — Amanda Rau, Chris Adlam, Ariel Cowan and Katherine Wollstein — recently joined the team and are adding their expertise to the webinars, which also feature additional OSU forestry specialists and community partners. Two more wildland fire specialists are yet to be hired. They will be strategically placed in areas throughout the state of greatest risk and need related to wildfires.
“We are excited to watch our new Fire Extension Program ramp up, with several new hires of outstanding specialists” said Jim Johnson, senior associate dean for the College of Forestry and program leader Forestry and Natural Resources Extension. “Already the team has been active putting on weekly webinars to help folks navigate laws, regulations, and the ins and outs of recovering from the devastating fires from a few weeks ago. They have also been active visiting with landowners and homeowners, providing advice, connecting folks to available resources and expert help, and providing a forum for folks to share their stories.”
As the team prepares and presents webinars, they’re also working with OSU Extension’s Oregon Natural Resources Education Program to develop a curriculum on fire for kindergarten through 12th grade teachers.
“We’re working toward providing educators with the essential information to be able to teach students about fire so when they leave school, they have an understanding of fire and the skill set to deal with it,” Berger said. “There’s also the thought that some will be inspired to go into natural resources careers.”
Berger, who recently received the New Technologies in Agricultural Extension fellowship from Extension, will also lead a team that will provide curriculum on the value of prescribed burning as a land management tool. The lessons, which will be ready in spring, are meant for private landowners, both commercial and non-commercial, though professional land managers can use the course as a refresher.
“Devastating wildfires are a growing threat in the west and across the nation, jeopardizing the health, safety and vitality of communities and people,” Berger said. “Prescribed burning is an accepted land management tool to meet landscape health objectives. Building certified prescribed fire education will provide the opportunity for advancement of skills necessary for the safe and proper use of prescribed fire on the landscape.”
Here are some details about the new regional wildland fire specialists:
Rau comes to OSU from the Nature Conservancy, where she worked as the fire manager in both Oregon and Washington. Rau earned her master’s degree in natural resources in fire ecology and management from the University of Idaho. She will be serving the Willamette Valley and Cascades fire service area.
Adlam is a fire ecologist who joins the Fire Program from the University of California, Davis, where he has just completed his PhD in ecology. As a graduate student, he worked with northern California tribes and tribal fire practitioners on revitalizing the use of fire to manage their homelands and cultural resources. He will be serving the southwest fire service area.
Cowan most recently worked at the Oregon Department of Forestry as a monitoring specialist and stewardship forester in the Sisters-Prineville area. Cowan earned her master’s degree in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystem & Society. She will be serving the central fire service area.
Wollstein holds a master’s degree from OSU’s Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society and a bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology from Washington State University. Wollstein is finishing her PhD at the University of Idaho, where she is focused on rangeland policy and governance, ranching and public lands. Wollstein will be serving the southeast fire service area.