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Listen: Protecting Bend From Megafires with County Forester Ed Keith 🎧

In the aftermath of last week’s mass destruction, we take a deep dive into the history of wildfire and forest management in Central Oregon, with local forestry expert Ed Keith.

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For this week’s “Bend Don’t Break” podcast we talk with Ed Keith, who has worked as the county forester for Deschutes County since 2012. Keith traces the history of forest management in Central Oregon, including the impact of grazing and timber harvest, and describes how decades of fire suppression in Oregon’s forests disrupted the natural cycles of wildfire in the region.

Ed Keith has worked as county forester for Deschutes County since 2012. - CLIFF LIEDKE
  • Cliff Liedke
  • Ed Keith has worked as county forester for Deschutes County since 2012.
Ten years ago, he began working with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, a diverse collective of environmentalists, fire fighters and timber executives working to reduce the risk of major wildfires in Deschutes County through forest thinning and controlled burns.

During this conversation, we learn the details of how Deschutes County may be more fire resilient than other areas of the state and why land use and development decisions around the urban growth boundary play a key role in keeping the community safe. Keith provides an overview of how most wildfires start in Oregon and decodes the language of fire suppression for our listeners.

LISTEN now or find "Bend Don't Break" on iTunes and SoundCloud

Keith is originally from Nevada and has a bachelor’s degree in forest management from Utah State University. He worked seasonally as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Washington and Idaho while going to school.

He moved to Oregon in 1997 to work as a forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry in Tillamook, Prineville and eventually Sweet Home, where he managed fire protection for a 450,000-acre area in Linn County. In 2012, he moved to Deschutes County to work as county forester. Part of his job is working with communities through education and outreach to keep them fire-safe and fire-resistant by creating defensible space around houses. He also coordinates with local, state and federal governments and private landowners to reach shared goals such as preventing major wildfires in the county.

Over the last week, fire experts have offered many different explanations for how these megafires started: The answers range from downed powerlines, to lightning strikes, to arson, to campfire embers. We ask Keith, how do most fires start in Oregon?

"For Oregon as a whole, we sit around 80% human caused and 20% lightening caused fires," he said. "But it really depends on the geography… in Eastern Oregon that might be closer to 50/50, where in Western Oregon it might be closer to 90-95% human-caused as they don’t experience much lightening and there’s lots more humans. The number one cause of human-caused fires is escaped debris burns. Then equipment, which includes everything from powerlines going down to a railroad car that might catch on fire, to dragging tow chains. The third category is related to recreation. All human-caused fires are at least, in theory, preventable."

Listen more from Ed Keith, Deschutes County forester on this weeks episode of “Bend Don't Break,” hosted by the Source Weekly’s publisher Aaron Switzer. Every week, Switzer invites on a someone from the community with a new perspective on living through the COVID-19 pandemic including mental health professionals, economists, educators, artists, business people, local leaders and historians. Subscribe on iTunes, Soundcloud or wherever you get your podcasts.


About The Authors

Laurel Brauns

Laurel has toured the national coffeehouse circuit as a singer-songwriter and spent years buried in psychology books to earn her (in-progress) PhD. She was rescued from both artistic and academic obscurity by The Source Weekly where she loves telling stories about the people who make this community a better place...

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