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Western Wildfire Impacts: Findings from the 2021 Western Silviculture Survey

This post highlights featured research from the Q3 2021 Forisk Research Quarterly (FRQ), which includes forest industry analysis and timber price forecasts for North America.

Each year we collect data on silviculture practices of large landowners and managers, alternating annually between the US South and West. This summer we completed our Western survey and collected data on 9.0 million acres of privately managed forestland. The silviculture surveys provide a means for benchmarking costs and practices among western managers. We capture trends such as decreasing precommercial thinning and a growing use of commercial thinning, as well as fertilizer application data, and an array of site preparation and competition control practices. This year, we also inquired about losses to wildfires in 2020.

The Oregon fire season post-Labor Day was historically bad. A report by Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) referenced 1.3 million acres burned across the state. A preliminary estimate suggested over 380 thousand privately held timberland acres were burned with stumpage losses of at least $5.3 billion. The scale of losses to private timber was previously unheralded in Oregon.

Among the respondents to our Western survey, we collected data on 2.8 million acres of Oregon timberland west of the Cascades, over 40% of the private timberland held in the region. Respondents reported fire damage to 159 thousand acres, nearly 6% of respondent acres in the region (Figure). This total is over 40% of the ODF reported burned acres. Survey respondents reported roughly 10% of burned acres supported merchantable stands which required salvage logging. An additional 9% of burned acres required replanting but did not have salvage-worthy volumes. Respondents represented 42% of the burned private acres ODF cited in Oregon.

Figure. Wildfire Losses on Private Lands in the Western U.S. (thousand acres)

A primary worry following the fires was the availability of seedlings to replant stands. Among respondents, the 30,000 burned acres needing replanting equaled roughly half of the acres planted in 2020. In other words, private landowners would expect seedling needs to increase by at least 50% in 2021, without accounting for the million acres of public land burned which may also require replanting.

Landowners in western Washington and east of the Cascades reported fewer acres impacted by fires, though the acres damaged were more severely impacted. As the 2021 fire season takes shape with significant damage and large fires already reported, it remains to be seen if 2020 is an anomaly or the start of a worrying trend for private timberland owners.

To learn more about the Forisk Research Quarterly (FRQ), click here or call Forisk at 770.725.8447.

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