A situated research project that focuses on a particular issue in public land, energy, agriculture, or another broad field is a central aspect of ENVS 330. This project is done in groups and takes most of the semester. Each group must use the “hourglass” research method with a broad framing question, background, specific methods for assessing the problem, and wider ranging implications. My group is interested in issues regarding public lands and after some preliminary research, we decided to focus on wildfire in sections of Oregon within the Columbia River Basin. The topic of wildfires in relation to public land management seemed particularly significant since our most recent fire season was one of the longest and most destructive on record. With regards to fires on public land, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge seemed like an interesting case study as it burned a large area that is home to many stakeholders of various priorities.
Although climate change is the overarching factor that increases fire risk, the most prominent forestry issue is heterogeneous forest management and fire prevention methods. Since different landowners all manage their sections of forest differently, there is major variation in overall forest density, age of trees, and fire prevention tactics. Author Susan Charnley calls such variation in forest management “response diversity.” This makes wildfire mitigation and effective forest management an inefficient process. As far as “competing priorities” go, it will be interesting to see how the forest service and firefighters prioritize forest land owners vs residential areas.
To assess wildfire risk and management, we plan on using a variety of methods including mapping data with Arc GIS to demonstrate the relationship between land use and fire risk. We also intend to draw upon previous wildfire data from the Oregon Department of Forestry and Northwest Inter agency Coordinating Center to estimate the economic cost of wildfires in our situated context. This will be coupled with qualitative analysis of wildfire reports and management plans to examine how wildfires are generally dealt with. I’m excited to be researching a topic as current and vital as wildfires. They are a prime method of destruction on the west coast and I hope to find interesting ways of preventing fire risk. Although we have our topic and have done a fair amount of research, this project is by no means stationary. It will evolve over time and I’m interested to see where it will go next.