Fire Risk and Policy in the Columbia River Gorge: Project Reflections

A situated research project utilizing the “hourglass” method is a major component of ENVS 330. This project focuses on a broad issue, narrows it to a particular location, asks framing and focus questions, provides background, analyzes the focus question via applicable methods, shares results and discusses possible next steps to be taken. My group focused on the issue of fire risk, especially pertaining to the unusually destructive wildfires the west coast has been experiencing. We chose to focus on the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge as this was particularly impactful and controversial for residents of the Portland area. There are also lots of landowners and stakeholders in the Gorge that were affected. At first, we were interested in how decisions were made regarding fire risk and the role of forestry in heightened fire risk but there wasn’t much evidence on that regarding the Columbia River Gorge. We did, however, find a comprehensive management plan that proved pivotal in our research. Along with countless other guidelines and descriptions, this plan outlined preventative steps that must be taken by residents to lower fire risk in the more “urban” regions of the gorge. We also utilized Arc GIS to map the gorge according to fire risk and to see which areas burned most intensely.


Upon extensive qualitative analysis, we came to the conclusion that the management plan does little to address causes of fire risk. In our next steps, we made suggestions for how the management plan could be revised to include greater details regarding wildfire risk like reassessment, post fire forest conditions and assessment of future fire risk. Upon completing the GIS analysis, it was clear that steep slopes burned most intensely. However, this could be because they are so difficult to access for firefighters and aren’t in urban areas. Upon completing the write up of this project, we made revisions to several sections including an actor network map that visually illustrated the full scope of the issue with all the stakeholders involved. Although it was a challenge to settle on a final approach to fire risk with solid sources to back it up, it was rewarding to finally complete the write up after so much change and revision.

One comment

  1. I definitely had similar feelings about how challenging the writeup was, but also how rewarding it was to finally finish it. I find it interesting that your group chose something that is so current, and with us being in Portland, relevant to our lives. Is this the reason you chose this issue or was it just random? Is there anything specifically that your group really struggled with?


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