News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Cutting trees to save the forest

I’m a bit of a tree hugger. I love our towering ponderosa pines. Heck, I even have a soft spot for junipers. There’s a big one in my yard that gives me pleasure every time I look at it (and the birds that flock to it), and there are a couple of venerable, gnarled specimens that I visit regularly on woods rambles.I’ve been known to talk to trees. Don’t make it weird.

One of the things that I’ve learned over a lifetime of woods rambling is that sometimes loving the trees and loving the forest are at odds. Sometimes, in order for the forest to thrive, trees must fall.

Sisters Country’s forests are not naturally dense. The historic forest was far more open and park-like than what we see in many places today. That’s a function of a hundred years of logging old growth and suppressing fire. We’ve changed the way we manage forests now, but there’s a lot of catching up to do to return them to a “natural” state.

Sisters’ forests need fire — it cleans up the forest floor, removing choking underbrush, and small trees, and it makes the remaining trees more resilient.

A spate of winter-like weather has delayed things, but Sisters is going into burning season, where foresters will be lighting prescribed burns to mimic natural fire patterns and restore forest health. It’s always a bit of a drag when there’s smoke in the air on a fresh spring day — but it’s good for both the forest and for us in the end.

Burning isn’t the only tool foresters need to restore healthy forests. Logging to thin the forest is also critical. Burning and thinning projects also help protect Sisters from catastrophic wildfire. Work in recent years has created a belt of treated lands around local communities — and those treatment areas have proven vital to firefighting efforts. When a marching wildfire hits those areas, it “lies down” and that allows firefighters to get ahead of a blaze and build containment lines.

The work in Sisters Country has been promoted by the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project.

That organization aims to restore local forests to a healthier, more resilient condition through science-driven restoration projects. The Collaborative is comprised of a volunteer stakeholder committee of 19 community members representing land management agencies, tribal groups, the timber industry, environmental nonprofits, recreational and tourism interests, scientists, government officials, and wildlife specialists.

The Collaborative plays an active role in community education about the need for active forest restoration — and in lobbying to get the funds allocated to actually do the work.

The Collaborative seeks to promote safer communities and improved wildlife habitat, and to protect water resources.

By promoting forest projects, they seek to grow opportunities for jobs working in the forest, while protecting local economiesfrom the often devastating effects of disruption from wildfire.

The outfit and the Forest Service have recently taken some heat over the felling of some large trees in a project west of Bend. The trees, about 30 of them, were large and relatively old — but not old growth. Nevertheless, steering committee members have acknowledged that at least some of those trees might better have been preserved.

Fair enough. Watchdog groups are right to keep an eye on projects, and every organization has room to learn and to do its work better. But it’s also important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. The Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project and all of its partners — from agencies to logging contractors —have done some really outstanding work in Sisters Country, not only in forest restoration, but in building good faith relationships where there used to be suspicion.Sisters Country is better for their efforts.

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

Author photo

Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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