A year on the Ochoco
- Jason Chaney
- Central Oregonian - News
Ochoco National Forest Supervisor Kate Klein reflects on her first year on the job
For Kate Klein, her first year as Forest Supervisor for Ochoco National Forest started quieter than expected.
Last August, after one month on the job, the local agency approved its travel management plan, which signaled the closure of numerous roads throughout the Ochocos.
To her surprise, nobody seemed to notice.
“I expected to hear things, because I had worked with travel management in Arizona, and it was very controversial there,” Klein remembers.
As it turned out, the controversy wouldn’t hit until the following spring, when local residents prepared to venture into the forest again. Since then, Klein has heard plenty of public outcry, and she faces the challenge of providing whatever answers and solutions she can.
Klein has worked on a variety of issues besides the travel management rule and its impact. For example, she emphasized work on forest restoration and vegetation management on the Ochoco.
“I think it’s critical,” she said. “It’s a big project — a big, long-term management strategy that we are working on.”
Invasive species control has kept Klein busy as well. The forest service just signed a new decision regarding the control and treatment of invasive vegetation.
“I think it’s a big deal,” she said. “Most people maybe don’t know about that or aren’t that interested, but it’s a big deal.”
Nevertheless, the travel management rule has seized the most attention, and forced Klein to respond to the changes.
“I think my role is to listen to the public,” she said, “to understand what the issues are, where they are coming from, to try to accommodate their concerns and issues, or lead the way as the forest supervisor. . .”
In her role, Klein said she could make some changes to the road closures if people present a sound reason. She can open some roads to mixed use or even add some more open roads on the forest if they remain in good enough condition.
At the same time, Klein must abide by the limitations outlined in the environmental impact statement for the travel management rule.
“The travel rule, I think, is pretty clear that we need to eliminate cross-country motor vehicle travel,” she said. “I don’t think I would ever back off of that.”
Along with forest road restrictions, Klein took over her new role at a time when Crook County again started to face the threat of discontinued county timber payments. Unlike previous years, when Congress has focused on reauthorizing the payments, some legislators, including U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) have suggested new forest management strategies in Oregon, including state land trusts.
At the same time, local government leaders have joined timber executives and leading environmentalist groups in a collaborative that will manage a portion of the Ochoco.
According to Klein, the forest service has worked with the collaborative, and will take suggestions from the group as they proceed.
“We don’t have the authority to turn the forest over to them,” she said, “but certainly we want to work with that group.”
In dealing with the variety of issues she now faces as forest supervisor, Klein believes her prior forest service experience has helped — particularly with the implementation of the travel management plan.
“I had been familiar with the rule,” she said. “I knew what it said, I knew what we needed to address as part of the decision. I had also had a lot of conversations with the public prior to coming here.”
At the same time, she has faced challenges unique to Ochoco National Forest. For example, the Ochoco is home to one of only two wild horse territories in the Forest Service’s northwest region. Ochoco National Forest also manages the Crooked River National Grassland, which is the only federal grassland in the northwest.
As she approaches her one-year anniversary, around the end of July, Klein tries to keep the changes and recent controversy in perspective. Reading about the history of the Forest Service over the years has helped.
“It seems like in every era there have been challenging issues for the agency,” she said. “I don’t know that it’s any more challenging (now) than any other era.”