Prescribed Fire

Rx Fire Sandhill Cranes Bob Jensen

For thousands of years, fire has been part of the landscape that includes Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. When used in a safe and controlled way, fire can be a highly effective method for maintaining wildlife habitat. It also has the power to transform overgrown, unwanted grasses and plants into rich, diverse habitats that attract a greater number and variety of wildlife.

Ridgefield NWR Prescribed Fire Details

Rx Fire Crew USFWS

  • The first prescribed burn is tentatively scheduled for Friday September 28th
  • This date is dependent on weather and fire crew availability, so it can change
  • A total of 34 acres may be burned at two sites near Widgeon Lake on Bachelor Island
  • The Refuge has targeted three total prescribed fires for Fall 2018
  • A total of 80 acres may be burned during this pilot project 
  • All burns are on Bachelor Island in an area closed to the public
See additional Fire FAQs


Birds-eye View of the Prescribed Burn Site

Prescribed Fire Explainer with Biologist Jess Wenick

See a map of the prescribed fire site


Prescribed Fire Helps Wildlife


The three prescribed fires the Refuge is targeting will help manage two habitat types: Upland grassland and wetlands. Burning upland grassland will benefit wildlife — known as browsers — that feed on short grasses and flowering plants. This includes geese, the iconic sandhill crane, and the protected Columbian white-tailed deer.

The fire removes old, rough, dense vegetation and makes room for fresh, desirable plants and grasses that are more diverse and spread out. In wetlands, fire will help migrating waterfowl by making space for more native plants and grasses. These plants produce seeds, tubers, and other things waterfowl like to eat. They are also important for making nests.


Why use fire to manage a National Wildlife Refuge?

RxFire-Northern harrier-DonaldInPortlandia-512x219

  • Effective and comprehensive. It’s a total reset of the soil in one action.
  • A competitive advantage. Native plants that thrive in low-nutrient soil get an edge over invasives because the fire lowers the overall nutrient level.
  • Simple and safe. Other methods of habitat management — mowing, discing, grazing, and spraying — require a lot more time and effort.
  • Time-tested. Indigenous people of this area have been using fire for healthy land management since time immemorial. Highly trained U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service crews have been safely and effectively managing with fire for decades.

National Wildlife Refuges exist to provide healthy habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. A diverse collection of trees, plants, and grasses attracts a lot of animals — and that’s what makes a place like Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge such a great experience for the people who visit and live nearby.

For thousands of years, fire has been a part of the local landscape. It has sometimes been started by something natural, like a lightning strike. Other times, controlled fire under the right conditions has been used by people to help create good habitat. Without fire, land can become overrun by a single plant (a monoculture), or the plants and grasses can become too dense for animals to eat, nest, or move around. Controlled fire helps the soil start over and have the kind of space and nutrients that attract a better amount and variety of native plants and grasses.


Prescribed Fire is Safe for Wildlife, Staff, and the Community

Fire is a very visible action. We are committed to making sure it achieves our habitat management goals before making it a regular part of our conservation toolkit. We are equally committed to conducting the fires with an abundance of caution and safety measures that will greatly reduce the risk for wildlife and people.

  • The fires will take place only in areas closed to the public.
  • The fires are conducted one at a time to reduce the amount of smoke produced.
  • More than 20 refuge staff and fire personnel will be on hand during the fire, performing a number of roles including fire application and control, monitoring, and communication.
  • The method for burning involves specific steps that have been practiced many times by highly trained fire crews.
  • The burns will not be scheduled until all weather and soil conditions are right, including wind and moisture levels. This prevents the fire from burning too hot or too fast.
  • The fire moves very slowly, slower than the average walking pace, so both wildlife and fire personnel are at extremely low risk for negative impacts from the fire.


Additional Resources

RxFire Location Map 512x396

Prescribed Fire FAQ

Photos from a prescribed fire at nearby Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Fire Management Blog Post

Washington Prescribed Fire Council