Stages of Restoration

Restoration is the important act of improving forest health. Read on to understand the steps used so we can enjoy our local forests now and for future generations.

Stages of Restoration

Before restoration happens in the forest, there are years of behind the scene work to ensure we’re supporting our forest positively. Read on to learn more!

1. Issue Identifying & Priority Setting

A survey of the current landscape helps to create a prioritized list of issues and a plan to make positive changes in the forest.

2. Planning (NEPA) & Scoping

The National Environmental Policy Act gives the public an explanation on the environmental impact of the forest restoration work. The public may review the restoration plans and give feedback two separate times before the work takes place.

3. Implementation

After the above stages have taken place, it's time to do the work in the forest. Implementation usually has three segments:
Prescribed Fire

4. Monitoring & Adaptive Management

Keeping track of the progress and noting the effects of the restoration. This step of investigation improves the the planning process for the next round of restoration work.

5. Maintenance

Forest restoration requires continuous work to keep the forest healthy. This includes prescribed fires and thinning.

To start, let’s remember that the forests surrounding our communities have gone through a lot the last 100+ years including:

  • Most old growth trees cut down and large areas replaced with tree farms to supply the local mills with thousands and thousands of board feet per year. 

  • Once these land plots were turned over to the Forest Service, the excess rows of trees from being tree farms were left to grow.

  • Fire that historically moved through our forest about every 15 - 20 years was removed from the landscape in the early 1900s, allowing most seeds to sprout, leaving all areas of our local forests unnaturally dense and unhealthy.

1. Issue Identifying & Priority Setting

First, in the Issue Identifying stage, the Deschutes National Forest surveys the current landscape using sophisticated mapping and modeling processes. The goal is to create a list of priority areas with unhealthy issues affecting the landscape. 

Some examples include:

  • Lack of food sources for wildlife

  • High wildfire risk locations

  • Areas in the forest having an overabundance of trees per acre. 

Next, a Forest Plan of action is created to address the issues that came up. The goal is to make positive changes to the forest. Some examples could be:

  • Restore food sources for wildlife

  • Reduce high risk of wildfire

  • Remove excess amounts of trees per acre 

The Forest Plan will be used during every stage of restoration and in conversations with the public to explain why the work is happening.

2. Planning (NEPA) & Scoping

NEPA stands for National Environmental Policy Act. 

It's a law requiring the federal government to explain to the public what the environmental impact is likely to be from making changes in the forest, including restoration work.

It also requires allowing the public to review the restoration plans and give feedback two separate times before the work takes place. This phase is also called the "NEPA Planning" phase, or just "NEPA."

First public feedback opportunity:

  • Is the “scoping” phase. Once Issue Identification and the Forest Plan identify priority areas, the Forest Service conducts a closer examination, and proposes location-specific treatments in areas that range from 3,000 to 60,000 acres. 

  • This proposal is a basic description of upcoming restoration, which is shared to the public with a 30-day comment period.  

Second public feedback opportunity:

  • Takes place when the project has been studied in more depth, and community feedback has been incorporated, so the analysis is almost complete. 

  • The Forest Service will release a draft of their planning document, again inviting public review through a 30-day comment period

3. Implementation

A) Contracting:

The Forest Service breaks the larger restoration area into smaller sections, writing individual contracts per area, with specific Forest Plan expectations for each section. This can include:

  • Removing a certain type of tree that is invasive.

  • If the area prior to becoming a tree farm supported 50 trees per acre and currently there are 150 trees per acre, explain which trees need to be removed.

  • Explain how they want the trees to be cut to bring back open meadows and other historical characteristics that our current overgrown forests do not have anymore.

Then the contract is put "out for bid."  Private companies get to look at the project and make a bid. This is just like having a couple of contractors offer bids on how much it would cost to fix the roof on your house. The Forest Service will weigh both price and quality when deciding who to award the contract to.

B) Thinning: 

The process of reducing the thickness of trees and brush in the forest. This is done in two stages:

  • Stage One: Mowing cuts the top off the brush like a lawn mower. Mastication chops the brush into the soil like a tiller.

    • Historically, the fires that moved through our forest would do this, so we are mimicking this action. 

    • When wildfire next moves though our forest, this act will help keep the fire on the forest floor vs. moving up into the trees and killing them. 

  • Stage Two: Removal of some of the trees. The DCFP usually recommends a technique called thin from below in which the smallest trees are prioritized for removal. The larger, more fire-resilient trees are left is the goal for most restoration projects.  Of course, a few small trees are always left to grow into the big trees of the future.

C) Commercial Timber Sales vs. Non-Commercial Restoration Thinning: 

Standard timber sales are usually designed to maximize commercial value.

  • Restoration thinning is designed for eco-friendly benefits and improving the forest’s health.

    • Most thinning is done by private companies, and most of it costs the Forest Service a lot of money to complete. 

      • A large amount of the trees that are removed are young and have no economic value.

      • In some cases, some of the trees that are thinned are large enough to be milled into 2x4s or other commercially valuable products. 

      • That said, it is still more expensive for the Forest Service to staff and manage the restoration project than what is made of the sale of the wood removed from the forest. 

    • Congress and the State of Oregon help with funding to make restoration work happen in Central Oregon!

D) Prescribed Fire: 

According to the USFS, prescribed fire, also known as "controlled burning," is the "controlled use of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions."  

Prescribed fire:

  • Has proved to be the most successful way to reduce tree deaths from wildfire.

  • Is typically done in the spring or fall when the weather is cool. We do see some prescribed fires during winter, but they are very uncommon.

  • The Forest Service works with DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) to choose the correct burn days to ensure the wind is light and has less of a chance to blow into Central Oregon towns.

  • Thinning ahead of time generally makes prescribed fire a lot safer because it reduces the amount of material in the woods.

The Burn Boss oversees all aspects of the prescribed fire.

Fire is very important for forest health:

  • Our local forests experienced large & small low-severity wildfires about every 15 - 20 years from frequent lightning storms.

  • Prior to European expansion, Indigenous people in Central Oregon burned the forests on a regular basis, or in some cases, just invited the frequent lightning to do the work for them.  

  • That history of frequent fire can be found in the growth patterns of old trees in the area. In some places modern fire experts are learning from indigenous people who still carry that traditional knowledge. 

4. Monitoring & Adaptive Management

After implementation, the Forest Service:

  • Keeps track of how the sections of forest that went through restoration and the remaining trees are doing.  

  • If any wildfires burn through the treatment, they take an especially close look to see what effects their restoration work had.   

    • Lessons learned from these investigations help improve planning for the next round.  

    • The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the Forest Service and the Klamath Tribe, is currently doing a very in-depth analysis of the effects of the Bootleg fire which burned in 2021. The habitat the Bootleg Fire burned was similar to areas of the Deschutes National Forest, so we expect to learn a lot about how to improve our work from that in-depth study when it comes out.

Through The Fire: Restoring Forest Resilience

5. Maintenance

Restoration work is not a one and done type of thing. Once mowing, thinning and prescribed fire have taken place, ongoing restoration is needed. 

  • Prescribed fire and possibly also thinning, needs to be applied on a regular basis. 

    • This is because we are still stopping fires from moving through the land, so we need to do the work that fire would normally do on its own.

  • If we don't maintain the work, we end up in the same predicament we're in right now of too many trees and brush per acre.   

    • The Indigenous people who lived here before us learned generations ago that regular low-intensity fire helped the forest. Now modern forest managers are learning how to make stewardship of these forests an inter-generational effort.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Join our newsletter list to receive updates on forest restoration activity in the Deschutes National Forest, including temporary trail closures, prescribed fire announcements, and related community events.

* indicates required
(c) 2023 Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project