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Smoke Management for Prescribed Burning on Forestlands

Aug. 25, 2023: DEQ has released its Community Smoke Response and Preparedness Funding Recap. This report talks about projects accomplished in communities to help them be more prepared for and resilient to the impacts of smoke. See below for more information.

The Oregon Smoke Management Program is a comprehensive program DEQ developed in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Health Authority. The Oregon Department of Forestry, with assistance from DEQ, implements the smoke management program for prescribed burning on forestlands. The goal of the program is to safely utilize prescribed forest burning to reduce the buildup of forest fuels, maintain forest health and reduce the risk of large uncontrolled wildfires. These planned fires are ignited when fire danger is low and weather conditions are favorable for protecting communities from potential smoke. While pursuing these goals, the agencies also seek to keep the public informed of smoke impacts and provide them with resources to protect themselves from smoke, regardless of the source. Learn more about the program by visiting the ODF Burning & Smoke Management web page.

Prescribed fires create air pollution in the form of smoke. Smoke is a complex mixture of water vapor, toxic air pollutants and small airborne particles which can be inhaled, making breathing difficult and leading to more serious short-term and chronic health problems. Clean air is important, and no one likes smoke. Even small amounts of smoke can be harmful to people with sensitive health including infants, people over 65, and those with heart and lung disease. Learn more about the health effects of smoke.

Smoke sensitive receptor areas

Some areas in Oregon are more prone to smoke impacts due to topography and other contributing factors. A Smoke Sensitive Receptor Area is an area designated by the Smoke Management Advisory Committee in consultation with DEQ and ODF. These areas are provided the highest level of protection under the Smoke Management Plan. SSRAs are usually in densely populated locations with a past history of smoke incidents or other special legal status related to visibility.

Community response plans for smoke

Although prescribed fires are planned to occur during atmospheric conditions that limit smoke impacts, nearby communities may experience unintended smoke, therefore educating community members about smoke hazards and how to protect themselves is an important part of smoke management. ODF and DEQ recommends all SSRAs develop a Community Response Plan for smoke. The goal of a CRP is to promote communication between the entities that conduct prescribed fire, the local public health authority, vulnerable populations, and the public.

A CRP should be tailored to the unique needs of the community it serves. According to OAR 629-048-0180 2(a) the plan at a minimum must include:

  • A description of populations in an SSRA community that are vulnerable to the health effects of short-term smoke;
  • Adequate means by which the public, especially vulnerable populations in the SSRA community, will be notified in a clear and reliable way of anticipated smoke impacts in a timely manner;
  • Adequate options for protecting the health of vulnerable populations (or helping such populations to protect themselves) from short-term exposure to smoke; and
  • A plan and program for communications between the entities that conduct prescribed fire, the local public health authority, and the community's public and vulnerable populations who may be impacted by smoke.
A Community Response Plan toolkit and smoke resources are available if your community is interested in developing its own CRP. The toolkit is available on the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council's webpage on smoke management.

Statewide communication framework

Each year the Oregon Department of Forestry develops and distributes a best-practices communication framework related to:

  • The purpose and importance of prescribed burning,
  • The health risks of wildfire and prescribed fire smoke,
  • Recommendations for the public and vulnerable populations to reduce their exposure to smoke,
  • How local officials and the public can find out about current and upcoming prescribed burns planned in their area, and
  • How residents of an SSRA and other interested persons can get up-to-date information about anticipated smoke impacts in specific SSRAs.

Alternatives to burning and emissions reduction techniques

As part of the smoke management plan, DEQ and ODF encourage forestland managers to use practices that will meet their management objectives while reducing smoke emissions. Some practices to consider include:

  • Maximizing the cost-effective use of woody material for manufacture of products,
  • When cost-effective, using wood or other biomass for energy production or mulch,
  • Re-arranging woody materials, as necessary to accomplish reforestation through the slash (from a fire prevention standpoint, this may not be desirable in areas of heavy fuel concentrations or where soil moistures are not conducive to breakdown of fuels), and
  • Physical separation of “target" and “non-target" fuels, and
  • Removing or minimizing large fuel concentrations and heavy fuel loading to minimize smoldering. 

Senate Bill 762 community smoke response and preparedness funding recap

DEQ has completed a summary of community smoke response and preparedness grants and contracts funded by Senate Bill 762. Learn more about the work completed.  

Smoke management funding opportunities

Periodically DEQ will provide funding opportunities related to smoke management. There are no funding opportunities at this time.