A pioneering forest restoration management program has melded leading edge science and community consensus to protect a volatile and highly visible swath of Central Oregon’s public lands from the mounting threats of climate change and a catastrophic Central Oregon wildfire.

Like many Central Oregonians, Pete Caligiuri has a personal connection to the forest. Caligiuri was raised in Redmond and grew familiar with the lakes, trails, and quiet spaces that beckon thousands of visitors and newcomers here every year. He left to pursue an education and a career on the East Coast. Yet it was restoration—not recreation—that Caligiuri had on his mind when he came back to Central Oregon to work on a pioneering forest initiative for the Nature Conservancy.

Over the past several years, Caligiuri, a Yale-educated forest ecologist, sat alongside loggers, environmentalists, scientists and recreation advocates as part of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project—one of the first of its kind in the country. The goal was to hammer out a management strategy for a roughly 257,000-acre swath of forest just west of Bend, stretching from Sunriver to Sisters. It’s a contiguous sea of emerald pine spires painted against a dramatic mountain backdrop of snowcapped Cascade wilderness peaks that serves as a playground for locals and visitors alike.

The pine forest, a mix of majestic red-barked ponderosa and lodgepole pine and fir trees, is deeply connected to the region’s economic past and its future. It was once home to one of the most extensive and intensive logging operations on the West Coast, a rough and tumble business that fueled Bend’s sawmill economy for nearly a century. Today the big trees are mostly gone, as are the mills.

The forest is largely quiet, a haven for wildlife and hub of recreation that drives a $500 million local tourism economy, based on exploring rather than exploiting the forest. But that’s the glass-half-full version. Come July and August, the forest west of Bend is also a tinderbox of dense trees and brushes that, some say, is a ticking time bomb of sorts. The huge stockpile of fuels in an overly dense forest is ripe for a wildfire. The impact of such an event would be catastrophic: Valuable wildlife habitat destroyed, hundreds of miles of popular hiking and biking trails obliterated, scores of homes that have been built on the ever-expanding fringes of Bend and Sisters at risk.

From Bend Magazine: https://bendmagazine.com/fighting-central-oregon-wildfire-fire/