West Bend Project

Snowcat on Tangent trail | Photo by Meissner Nordic

The West Bend Project
By Holly Jewkes, Deschutes National Forest Supervisor
December 2023

I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share information about work the Deschutes National Forest is doing in the place you all value and love so much. Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and the services provided by Meissner Nordic offer a unique and special experience to the communities in Central Oregon and the many visitors to our area and we’re grateful for your work, passion and partnership.

Here in the high desert, we live in a fire-adapted ecosystem. For centuries, the Deschutes National Forest evolved with fire as an essential part of its healthy, resilient ecosystem through natural fire from lightning and indigenous cultural burning that occurred on this landscape for thousands of years. However, a decades-long policy of extinguishing all wildland fires left the forest unhealthy, overstocked and choked full of hazardous fuel buildup. We are working to change that.

I know many of you have noticed the changes that have occurred in the forest near Bend over the past decade. The West Bend Project has been implemented from the Forest boundary on the Cascade Lakes Highway up to the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park. Much of the intent of this project, that was developed collaboratively with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project (DCFP), was to minimize catastrophic fire risk to the City of Bend and to protect the highly valued recreation resources on the forest.

Much like the change in the West Bend project area, the trails you value in this area will look different this winter. The forest will be more open and you will see piles of limbs and small trees that will be burned in future years when they are dry enough to be completely consumed. We have become so accustomed to these overstocked forests that the actions we have taken so far may be shocking. It is not a dissimilar feeling to changing the landscaping in your own yard or changing the paint color in your living room, as these are places we value and have a connection to. We will get used to these more open forests as part of a restored ecosystem, but that will take time.

We hope that in doing this work, your favorite trail in this sno-park will be protected from large scale wildfire that burns with the kind of intensity that our landscape cannot quickly recover from, like the fire scar on Santiam Pass. Our efforts today could very well make the difference in protecting these landscapes for future generations.

I also want you all to know that we recognize the importance of ski trails and their value to recreationists and have taken care to avoid operations during the winter. We have also included stipulations to maintain additional trees along the trails where possible to maintain shade and retain snow in the time of noticeable climate change.

I also want to alert you to a growing issue unrelated to the work that is occurring to the West Bend Project–we are also seeing significant mortality of white fir at higher elevations in the Meissner area and across the forest. This is occurring across much of Central and Southern Oregon and our forest health experts have identified the fir engraver beetle as the culprit that is being more successful likely due to long term drought.

As you drive up to ski this winter, take a look around the Welcome Station and you will see work that is complete. That part of the West Bend project is a great example of holistic restoration—a Forest that was thinned, followed by piles being burned and finally, the reintroduction of low intensity prescribed fire. These are the same steps we will be taking at Virginia Meissner in the years to come and as we take these actions, the forest will be more resistant to intense wildfire and continue to provide high quality recreational experiences for decades to come.