Pole Creek Fire Report -Thinning Was Effective Around Sisters

Photo by Jim williams of the Sisters Nugget.

I couldn’t easily find a copy of this report by searching or by checking the Deschutes website, nevertheless, here’s a report from Oregon Public Broadcasting; below is an excerpt.

Back in 2009, the Deschutes National Forest began a number of forest thinning projects to protect the community of Sisters in the event of a wildfire.

When the Pole Creek Fire began three weeks ago, fire managers knew there was a good chance they’d have a front row seat to see if those efforts worked.

Bill Aney is a fuels specialist with Forest Service. He helped write the report. Aney says it’s clear the those treatments did what they were supposed to do.

He explained, “Instead of having fire in the crowns of these trees the fire was just on the ground as it approached these areas. And as a result the forest stand and the area that was treated is in tact, survived the fires, looks really nice.”

11 thoughts on “Pole Creek Fire Report -Thinning Was Effective Around Sisters”

  1. Thanks for posting. However, without an actual copy of the report it’s difficult to tell just exactly what types of “forest thinning” projects are being talked about here. Where the thinning projects deep in the forest, away from homes, etc? Or were the projects in the immediate surroundings of homes? Was the thinning followed by prescribed burning? Did the thinning project(s) remove commercial sawtimber? Or only non-commercial removal of small trees and brush?

  2. I will point out that the first part of the OPB story wasn’t part of the snip that Sharon included, and it does specifically mention the thinning protected homes, which leads me to believe we may be talking about a thinning project done within the home ignition zone or immediately adjacent to homes/community and not necessarily ‘thinning’ miles from homes. I don’t know of any enviro group in the nation that doesn’t support fuel reduction activities within the home ignition zone or immediately adjacent to homes/neighborhoods, etc.

    Here’s the opening snip from OPB:

    A new report from the U.S. Forest Service says recently completed forest thinning projects played a role in protecting homes from a wildfire burning outside Sisters.

    • But Matthew, the thinnings that we discuss here are pretty much around homes or groups of homes. I thought I saw homes scattered around even Colt Summit. What am I missing?

      • Sharon, there is no way that the Colt Summit timber sale could be described as taking place within the home ignition zone or immediately adjacent to homes/community. I think that’s what you are missing here. Thanks.

        • Here’s what the EA says about this specifically on page 6:

          1.2.3 Hazardous Fuels Reduction
          A third reason for proposing these treatments within the project area is to reduce hazardous fuels in the wildland-urban interface. The primary public road for ingress and egress to the Seeley-Swan area is Highway 83, which runs northwest to southeast through the center of the Colt Summit Project Area. Private lands in sections 2 and 35 between Summit and Rainy lakes contain residential development, including both yearlong and seasonal cabins. The Seeley-Swan Fire Plan identifies Highway 83 as an evacuation route and the Colt Summit Project Area as a high priority for treatment within the wildland-urban interface (Seeley Lake Rural Fire District et al. 2008; page 30, 32). Projects within the wildland-urban interface on lands considered to be at high risk for uncharacteristic wildfire and those areas of moderate risk adjacent to the high-risk areas are given the highest priority for treatment by the Southwestern Crown Collaborative (2010, page 15).

          Are you saying that some or all of these statements in the EA are untrue?

          If so, that would be interesting because the appellants did not seem to claim that. They claimed many things about fires and fuels, but not that.


          Maybe I’m missing something, but aren’t these folks the same ones that litigated? And they didn’t make that claim.

          PS for those of you who aren’t used to reading appeals, this one is a good example.

  3. Sharon, you must be missing something,because almost all of the controversial discussions I have read here have involved “thinning” or fire prevention efforts considerably outside the home protection zone. That is the heart of much of the conflict. Thinning miles from the homes or residential zones, if done without equally-protective thinning/brushing right in the yards and adjacent few-hundred feet, is not where the emphasis should be…in my opinion and that of many others.

    • Ed, it would be interesting to link the two, but a hundred feet from homes is usually provate property. Lots of education efforts have been going on and I heard that it was required in California. In Colorado a town tried to require it and it was overturned (Breckinridge)?

      While perhaps desirable, it seems difficult to imagine a policy that would have the FS not do fuel treatments around a community unless everyone does their work first in the presence of carrots only and no sticks.

      Again, I’m not sure how many projects with a purpose and need of fuels reduction to protect communities are “miles from” the homes or residential zones.

      Does anyone have any examples? We could look at the EAs and see how they explained it.

  4. There has a been a lot of work in the area around Sisters in recent years. Most of the “home ignition zone” is on non-federal land, but the surrounding forest is mostly dry Ponderosa pine that is generally suitable for restoration and removal of small trees. The Sisters District is pretty good about following treatments with prescribed fire.

    Here is an example of a project called the Sisters Area Fuels Reduction (SAFER) Project http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=7800

    The following outlines the treatment acres:
    No Treatment – 6,894 acres
    Burn only – 11 acres
    Mow & Burn – 568 acres
    Thin – 1,436 acres
    Thin & Burn – 79 acres
    Thin & Mow – 830 acres
    Thin & Mow & Burn – 11,267 acres
    Plantation Treatments – 3,382 acres
    Total – 24,467 acres
    (Even though this is not in the area covered by the “eastside screens,” I think all thinning used a 21″ dbh limit.)

    You can see it’s a big project. It’s not all in the home ignition zone, but arguably all in the WUI.

    Here’s a link to another nearby collaborative restoration project called Glaze Forest Restoration which is near the Sisters exburb of Back Butte Ranch. http://blog.oregonlive.com/pdxgreen/2007/12/_by_gail_kinsey_hill_1.html

    • Thanks, Tree, this is very helpful. I know there are a lot of different WUI definitions out there. but the point is that the objective is to change fire behavior to protect communities and the project is “nearby”. I guess folks could argue about how close.

  5. I think it is absolutely valuable to thin in areas that will protect forests that surround communities. Would YOU be happy if you had a sea of snags surrounding YOUR town?!?!? Would you be happy if YOUR yard trees were infested by clouds of bark beetles, coming from the dying trees on USFS lands, in a three mile radius around YOUR community?!?!? Yes, there is much value in having a green, healthy forest around your town, for miles.


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