The new Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Fire Program has its first manager in Carrie Berger, whose experience with Oregon State University College of Forestry spans 12 years.

Berger will lead one state fire specialist and six regional fire specialists, who will be strategically placed in areas of greatest risk and need as the growing program expands. The fire program was funded by the Oregon Legislature in 2019 to create and support more cross-boundary work and provide education and outreach opportunities in the state.

Administered by the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program, the group will focus on creating opportunities for landowners and help facilitate forest and range management plans, as well as create a healthy respect of fire through education and outreach efforts that include kindergarten to 12th grade students.

“You can think of the fire program team as ‘boundary spanners,’” said Berger, whose most recent position was associate leader of the OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension Program. “The team will work to build those important partnerships that are so crucial to mitigating Oregon’s risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

In the time of COVID-19, Berger has stepped up to provide online learning opportunities, including a webinar series on Fire Prevention and Preparedness in Oregon.

Berger, who has a bachelor’s degree in forest science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree in forestry from the University of Minnesota, formerly worked in forestry research in OSU’s Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society. But she said she prefers the outreach aspect of Extension.

“I love it so much I could work 12-plus hours a day,” Berger said. “I feel grateful coming from a research background that Extension saw my potential and gave me this opportunity. Every single day in Extension, I contribute to the bigger picture and make a difference in people’s lives. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.”

As she gets started in her new position, Berger will lead her team in creating a strategy for fire communications that will include educational materials, outreach to media sources and new partnerships, which she said is key for the program.

“I’m proud that the fire program was built from the ground up with input from our Forestry & Natural Resources Extension team and from stakeholders through needs assessments,” she said. “I’m also proud this program in Extension is one of the first of its kind across the nation.  

The program focuses on all land in Oregon, Berger said, including areas like the Willamette Valley, which has not traditionally been seen as a high-risk fire region. Education on how to manage for wildfire risk may be completely different for each area of the state. The six regional fire specialists will assess and focus on the needs of their specific areas.

“Fire can happen,” she said. “Even in the valley. We have to build knowledge. We have to teach people how to live with fire and to mitigate the risk.”

~Kym Pokorny