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LCC Library

Fire and Rain: The Environmental History of Western Oregon

There are a number of interesting questions surrounding the pre-European environment of Western Oregon. Was this an undisturbed Eden, or did the indigenous people manage their environment for their own needs?

Fire ecology is concerned with the processes linking fire behavior and ecological effect. Campaigns such as “Smokey Bear” in the USA have molded public opinion to believe that wildfires are always harmful to nature. This view is based on the outdated belief that ecosystems progress toward an equilibrium and that disturbance (such as fire) disrupts the harmony of nature. More recent ecological research has shown, however, that fire is an integral component to the function and biodiversity of many communities, and that the organisms within those communities have adapted to withstand and even exploit it. Fire suppression, in combination with other human-caused environmental changes, has resulted in unforeseen changes to ecosystem dynamics and species composition and has backfired to create some of the largest, most intense wildfires yet. Land managers are faced with tough questions about where it is appropriate to restore a fire regime and how to do it. These questions are crucial today as we see the consequences of years of fire suppression and the continued expansion of people into fire-adapted ecosystems.

Kalapuya Hunter, 1845

A.T. Agate's sketch Costume of a Callapuya Indian

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