Trail work follows the seasons. In winter, trails are blanketed under snow and little or no trail work occurs.
As spring arrives and the trails emerge from the melting snow, a small army of mostly volunteer trail workers gets busy.
They use chainsaws and hand saws to remove trees that have fallen across the trail. They use loppers and power brushers to cut back shrubs that are growing into the trail. They use shovels and other hand tools to complete small projects to improve trail drainage, prevent erosion, correct trail widening and more. They use machinery such as skid steers for larger maintenance projects such as reshaping jumps on mountain bike trails and building new trails.
They work furiously as summer approaches, and their work becomes sweatier and dustier with each passing week. As temperatures rise and the soil dries out — which seems to happen faster and sooner each year — certain types of trail work projects become unfeasible.
Imagine building a sandcastle on the beach. As the sand dries, it won’t stick together and becomes impossible to shape. Similarly, as Central Oregon soil dries out, it becomes nearly impossible to do trail work such as reshaping dirt jumps.
As soil dries, another more familiar shift also occurs: The risk of wildfire increases.
Trail work and wildfire risk are linked by a relatively unknown designation: the Industrial Fire Precaution Level . IFPLs start at Level I and go up to Level IV. At Levels II and III, the use of powered equipment and certain activities are limited. At Level IV, all use of power equipment and all industrial activities are suspended. IFPLs apply to lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management .
As described on the Deschutes National Forest website, IFPLs “pertain to permitted activities such as timber sales, service contracts and firewood cutting.” As the name implies, the IFPL system restricts certain activities associated with logging and other industrial activities as fire danger increases. IFPLs stipulate things an operator can’t do, such as not use machinery at certain times of day in dry conditions. IFPLs also prescribe things an operator must do, such as use spark arresters, carry a fire extinguisher and perform a fire watch after operations conclude.
This year, local Forest Service and BLM lands went from Level I to II in early July and raced onward through the levels, entering IFPL IV a mere two weeks later, on July 17. The IFPL is likely to remain at Level IV, the most restrictive level, until well into fall, when moisture returns.
Trail work activities are subject to IFPL requirements and restrictions. At IFPL IV, if a tree falls across the trail, trail workers can’t use a chainsaw to cut it. They must leave it there or cut it with a hand saw. If a new trail is being built, they must use hand tools and can no longer use machinery to speed the process along. Trail workers happily comply — no one wants a wildfire — and await the onset of fall, when moisture will return and any affected trail work projects can continue.
IFPLs also affect trail and road closures. At IFPL IV, because forest thinning operations are suspended, trails and forest roads in the thinning area that were previously closed Monday to Friday are now open.
As citizens and users of public lands, it is important to understand how to recreate responsibly as fire danger increases. While IFPLs affect industrial operations, high fire danger also necessitates recreational restrictions such as not having campfires and not driving or parking on dry vegetation. Thanks for recreating responsibly!