Part of the process of combining the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests could mean relocating headquarters offices in Bend or Redmond
About a year ago, the first steps in combining central Oregon’s two national forests were taken. Now officials are looking at possible sites to house the headquarters staff for that joint operation. There is a fear that if a Bend or Redmond site were chosen, it would mean a major loss to the local labor force. Last June the decision was made to put in effect the new leadership plan for management of BLM and Forest Service public lands in central Oregon. Officially known as the Central Oregon Initiative Leadership Organization Plan, the idea was to collaborate across the three units involved: both the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests and the Bureau of Land Management, Prineville District. Early in the process of merging the two Forests, officials made it clear that the Forest Service will continue to be a visible presence in the communities of Prineville, Madras and Bend. Until everything concerning the merger is completed, both the Prineville District BLM and Ochoco National Forest will continue to work out of the Prineville offices. Even then, Tom Schmidt, Forest Supervisor for the Ochoco National Forest, said there won’t be a major relocation. One person knows he’ll be relocated, however. Schmidt knew when the process began that someone would be transferred. And he would be that person. “I had hoped to retire here,” Schmidt said at the time, “but I guess I’m the odd man out.” As far as the rumor that the Forest Service is leaving Prineville, Schmidt said that isn’t likely to happen. The effort to combine the two forests under one leadership in conjunction with the BLM is the goal, he explained but quickly added that whatever share of the headquarters staff is relocated there would still be a large Forest Service presence in Prineville. The evaluation process is under way and various alternatives are being discussed. There are six alternative sites in three communities; Bend, Redmond and Prineville, being considered. “We expect to get that list down to three sites by March and a decision in April,” Schmidt added. The question is, how many Forest Service personnel would leave Prineville if the headquarters were moved to sites in Bend or Redmond? Schmidt responded by saying not many. Two years ago, the Big Summit Ranger District merged with the Prineville Ranger District and the personnel attached to that joint district will remain in their Prineville offices. Plus, even if the headquarters moved, Schmidt said there would be some headquarters personnel staying here. “There are reason to co-locate the headquarters in Prineville,” Schmidt said. One good reason is that “the facility is already there. There are good reasons to move to Redmond,” he went on to say, “it’s centrally located. And there are some reasons to choose a Bend location; they have the political power. The economic impacts in Bend wouldn’t be noticed if Prineville or Redmond were picked, but Prineville would feel them if one of the others was chosen.” Sometime ago, officials in the three communities were asked to inventory possible sites. They were asked to choose potential sites that encompassed at least 20 acres. The present Forest Service and BLM buildings in Prineville are one of the six potential locations being studied, another is a 20-acre parcel near the Prineville airport. Typically, both the Forest Service and BLM lease facilities from private parties. One of the reasons behind the merging of headquarters offices, Schmidt explained, is to cut costs. “Because of reductions in our budgets, we have to reduce our overhead and a major part of that is in our buildings.” Once the list of six locations have been reduced to three, Forest Service officials will begin working closely with community leaders and officials to determine what the impacts are. That, Schmidt said, will help the Forest Service decide where they will locate.