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Letters to the Editor 7/29/2015

To the Editor:

Recently local TV Channel 11 re-aired their coverage of the May 2015 meeting of the Bend City Club. A standing-room-only crowd of citizens heard a panel of wildland fire experts and local land managers discuss the role of planning in protecting our forest residential communities from forest fires

The primary presenter was a resource economist with a background in forestry and wildlife. He discussed results of collaborative efforts of a group in Summit County, Colorado, west of Denver, incorporating planning as a tool to alleviate fire susceptibility of new and existing forest residential communities. As in Deschutes County, new housing areas are rapidly being planned and built in dry pine forests that are prone to disastrous fires.

After examining many of these communities, several common problems were found, which have led to recommendations that can be applied here as well as there. First: areas of young, closely growing trees/thickets are often maintained for privacy and need to be thinned for safety. I do not know what spacings of trees local foresters now recommend; however, during my long career in forest ecology research, pine-thinning studies conducted in eastern Oregon and Washington determined that trees spaced 20 to 30 feet apart, on the average, maintain a healthy, fast-growing forest while reducing the danger of rapidly moving fire.

When the crowns are not allowed to inter-mingle, the result is an effective shaded fuel-break.

Second: enclosed communities should have at least two usable exits bordered by shaded fuel-breaks. I expect it would be very dangerous to try to leave Tollgate by the one paved exit to Highway 20 while a fast-moving fire roared through the dog-hair thickets less than 100 yards away. It might not be possible to get out the locked, gated fire exits at a moment's notice.

Third: forest residential communities are safer if encircled by a widely shaded fuel-break, that includes a hard surface path. In the communities they studied, the path served not only for recreation, but as a critical fire-break that prevented fire from spreading into the development. As a disabled person, I have strongly supported a paved or good hard-surface path. And it needs to be wide enough to serve as an effective fire-break.

If this multi-purpose trail is ever built, it makes sense to locate it in the forest adjacent to the community, and west of the highway. This would help keep a quickly moving fire from reaching homes along the forest border and also the entire community.

Paul Edgerton