By Nicole King | October 31, 2023

Northwest Active Management Tour 2023

People stand in a group on a hillside.
Students and professionals discuss post-fire management.

On Friday, September 29, 2023, students and professionals gathered in the Sun Valley Resort parking lot in Ketchum, Idaho. There were at least 40 people total, and they were all there to discuss the active forest management occurring at the ski resort.

The Northwest Active Management Tour began in 2016 with the goal of showing students and other professionals how different agencies and regions perform timber harvest and forest management. Since then, the active management tour has taken place almost every year across the US Northwest.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Ski Resort

The Sun Valley ski resort has a unique set of challenges for forest management. The resort features one of the largest automated snow systems in the country, which means that there are pipes carrying water just a few feet underground across the mountainside. Timber harvesters must be careful to not damage the pipes or snow guns with heavy equipment.

Additionally, most of the resort is within view of the city of Ketchum and the highway. If managers decide to put in a new road to better access and remove timber from mountain, everyone in town and on the road will be able to see that scar. Managers refer to this as a “view-shed” that must be protected as a resource just like a watershed.

The forest has faced several health challenges over the last few decades as well. It has been hard hit by Douglas fir bark beetle and many stands are infested with dwarf mistletoe. Protecting the health of the forest and maintaining the character of the ski runs are both high priorities that must be balanced by managers.


Later Friday afternoon, the tour left the ski resort and visited the property of a private landowner. The landowner was concerned about the risk of fire and disease on his land, but faced challenges from the Blaine County Mountain Overlay District; a policy that restricts the kinds of projects that private landowners can do on the mountain. The regulation is primarily to prevent housing developments in the viewshed, but also prevents active forest management on private land on hillsides.

The landowner was able to get unique permission to do active management on his land despite this challenge. He thinned his forest and removed standing dead trees. Removing the material is difficult due to the steepness of the slope, so the plan is to use a helicopter to carry wood off the mountain and pile it in a flat area near the road.

State Lands

The final stop of the day was at Idaho Department of Land (IDL) Endowment Land. These lands are used by the state to generate funds for public school. The site we visited had recently been logged. This required a road extension to allow heavy machinery to access the site. 

In addition to the challenges of accessing the site, managers must also deal with the distance to the nearest lumber mill. It costs money to move logs from the site to the mill, which makes it difficult to turn a profit. Additionally, this site is very close to the Sun Valley ski resort and experiences many of the same forest health challenges such as bark beetle attacks and dwarf mistletoe. To address these health concerns, managers performed a thin from above, removing all trees greater than 15” in diameter.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Camp Stanley and Highway 75

On Saturday, September 30, the group met at Camp Stanley, where most of the participants were camping, then moved to a US Forest Service managed site near highway 75.

The discussion focused on how to reduce the speed and intensity of wildfires to prevent them from running down the mountain and jumping over the highway towards valuable human assets. The forest in this area is primarily lodgepole pine with mostly non-serotinous cones, meaning they don’t need fire to open the cones and release the seeds.

Managers explained that it was difficult to justify management in this area prior to mountain pine beetle outbreaks in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until the forest was experiencing significant dieback that people realized that management was necessary to prevent further destruction.

The main strategy at this site was to create a quilt pattern on the landscape of different treatments. This helps the lodgepole to persist on the landscape and be resilient to disturbance. This also mimics lodgepole natural ecology, as lodgepole relies on disturbance to regenerate.

One treatment in this patchwork project is a prescribed burn. The burn was still smoldering when we visited the site. The fire was very low intensity, and only burned small patches of the understory. Adding fire back on the landscape in a controlled manner is critical to addressing the wildfire crisis in the west, and sometimes you have to start small to work up to the scale needed on the landscape.

Smiley Creek

The final stop of the day was at Smiley Creek, where a fire burned through in 2022. On one side of the road was a logging treatment that removed all the diseased lodgepole pine, leaving small clusters of trees standing. This strategy mimics natural disturbances that leave patches on the landscape, while targeting unhealthy trees to hopefully improve the health of the forest.

On the other side of the road, the fire burned through, leaving dead trees and black ground. This fire was very high intensity, and most of the trees died. This fire was unusually intense, as it started on the other side of the mountain and burned over the ridge. Fire fighters used the logging road to attack the fire and keep it from jumping over the highway.

The group stood on a hill overlooking the destruction, discussing reforestation. Because the area had recently been logged, seedlings are going to be available earlier than normal. The site already had a restoration plan, so seedlings were already ordered. The Forest Service intends to replant Douglas Fir in that area.