In late May, I went on a hike on part of the Santiam Wagon Road near Sisters, Oregon (see trail map at end of post). Carol Wall, of the Deschutes Land Trust, led this hike. We traveled along an out and back two-mile section of the road. This 400-mile route was used to move livestock and freight between 1865-1939. In the first 15 years of its operation, around 5,000 wagons passed over this route.
As I mentioned in a previous post, most travelers on this road traveled from the west side of the mountains to the east. My Santiam Wagon Road post gives details about a 2-mile hike on a different section of this route.
We gathered around the kiosk in the parking area and Carol had us imagine what this road must have looked like in the 1860s. The ponderosa pine and western juniper trees you’ll see at the trailhead likely didn’t exist at that time. Junipers expanded their range due to fire suppression and overgrazing.
Have they been “playing God” at Whychus Creek near Sisters, Oregon? I have witnessed the destruction of habitat before but never the restoration on such a huge scale. I went to the Whychus Canyon Preserve recently with the Deschutes Land Trust on a tour of the project. They and the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, with the support of several other agencies and nonprofits, started to do field work on rehabilitating six miles of the creek in 2016. It is an enormous undertaking and it’s expected to take around seven years to complete.
Restoration in progress
Whychus Creek is a 41-mile long waterway that has its origin in the Cascade Mountains. It flows through the city of Sisters, forested, and agricultural lands to eventually enter the Deschutes River. Historically, it provided prime habitat for spawning, rearing, and migration of redband trout, spring Chinook, and summer steelhead. Continue reading →
In late October I visited the Indian Ford Preserve, which is located several miles northeast of Sisters, Oregon, with Deschutes Land Trust (DLT) leader Kelly Madden. This is the flagship property of the group and it was purchased in 1995. Preserves are purchased outright, donated, or are protected through easement agreements with the owners. This property is 63 acres in size and consists of meadow, forest, and stream habitat. Indian Ford Creek meanders through the property. It is on the border of land dominated by Ponderosa pine or Western juniper.
I recently went on a Deschutes Land Trust hike just west of Bend, OR to learn about fire ecology. The area we hiked in is known as the Skyline Forest. There were fires in this vicinity in 2010 and 2014 and together they burned about 6,000 acres. The area is currently privately owned but the Deschutes Land Trust has been trying to acquire it.
Our guide, Pete Caligiuri with The Nature Conservancy, informed us that this area has about the steepest environmental gradient in the world. In the Cascade Mountains the precipitation can be as high as 160 inches per year while less than 25 miles away, it can be as low as 10 inches per year. Plants respond to the extreme amount of variability in this gradient. In the past, fire and moisture limited the number of trees in the forest. Now there can be as many as 800-900 trees per acre in this area.
We looked around to see how many large stumps left over from timber harvesting we could see. There weren’t many at all. At one time this forest had the trees much more widely spaced. We noticed the high number of young trees with branches reaching down closer to the ground. There was also a thick growth of underbrush that included bitterbrush and manzanita. The forest floor was covered with pine needles and fallen branches. The closer spacing, higher number of shrubs, and accumulation of litter on the forest floor makes this forest more vulnerable to fire.
Last week I went on a Metolius Preserve hike with the Deschutes Land Trust (DLT). This 1,240 acre preserve is located about ten miles west of Sisters, OR and was acquired by the DLT in 2003.
Ponderosa pine trees dominate the landscape but there are also Douglas fir, grand fir, incense cedar, and western larch trees. The pine trees near the kiosk are spaced about 30-40 feet apart and bunchgrass forms the dominant ground cover. Though the habitat appears natural, the forest has been restored with the help of Pacific Stewardship. The forest has been thinned and prescribed burns will foster an old-growth type of habitat. They have even created snags so that some of the 13 types of woodpeckers that live here find a good place to feed and nest. DLT also planted bunchgrass.