The supervisor for the combined Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests thanked Prineville officials for the information shared in a recent meeting, but said the choice of where to locate the headquarters staff is still between Bend and Redmond.
>After hearing Prineville's concerns about losing Ochoco National Forest personnel, officials were informed that the decision has been made and won't be reconsidered
In a six-page letter, Leslie Weldon explained the decision process, but made it clear - "as I stated on March 9, we will not re-open consideration of Prineville as a location for the combined headquarters. We believe," Weldon wrote, "our decision is based on sound rationale, most importantly, our need to be centrally located to all of our field units."
Early in March, Crook County Judge Scott Cooper explained a few of the impacts that removing Ochoco National Forest personnel would have on Prineville. Cooper's concerns were for the potential economic and social impact of the removal of 50 jobs from Prineville. He indicated his belief that the decision to remove 50 top policy-making jobs from Prineville has far-reaching consequences.
Weldon's response to those concerns began with a history outlining the financial considerations that the federal agency has to deal with. In the past ten years, decreasing budgets have mandated the consolidation of the two National Forests, she explained. The Ochoco NF budget dropped from $26 million in fiscal year 1993 to $12.3 million last year. That trend, Weldon added, is expected to continue. "The two forests can no longer support the cost associated with operating two separate forest headquarters."
The work of consolidating operations actually began locally with the co-locating of the Prineville Ranger District with the Ochoco NF headquarters. By combining the administration of the Snow Mountain Ranger District with the Malheur National Forest, and the Prineville and Big Summit Ranger Districts into one, the Lookout Mountain Ranger District, about 50 positions were lost.
A year ago, the decision was made to merge the leadership of the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests, a decision implemented last October. This action, Weldon states, will help reduce overhead costs and increase the agencys ability to meet objectives. With this decision, only one forest supervisor position will be eliminated. In the future, ten key leadership positions will oversee management of the two forests .. in 1991, there were more than twice that number of "key leadership positions."
With that explanation of the reason for combining the two forests, Weldon went on to talk about the work of determining where to locate the headquarters staff. To begin with, Weldon said a Facilities Analysis Team looked at options for leasing or owning a combined HG in the three full service communities of Redmond, Bend and Prineville.
"Through all of our analysis, three key reasons were identified as rationale for our decision not to locate in Prineville:
Locating a headquarters office in Redmond or Bend saves money by reducing the commuting impact for a greater number of employees -
Redmond and Bend are more centrally located to the seven units throughout central Oregon the headquarters will serve -
Bend and Redmond are stronger corporate, governmental and media centers - "
Presently there are 125 headquarters employees working in Bend and 50 in Prineville. By 2003 or so, when the new headquarters facility is operational, these 50 employees will be reassigned to the new headquarters. Weldon states that this reduction will have "some impact on the community leadership structure in Prineville." But, she adds, "it is likely that some employees will chose Prineville as their home. Currently," she said, "there are forest employees who commute between Bend and Prineville."
The loss of Forest Service individuals or families living and interacting in Prineville, Weldon says, is a short-term impact which will become less evident as predicted growth for Crook County continues.
On the question of economic impacts, Weldon said purchases will continue to be made in Prineville through the Lookout Mountain Ranger District. Currently, she explained, the Ochoco NF spends about $477,000 in Prineville each year. "With the move, we expect expenditures in Prineville to remain about $376,100. We acknowledge that there will be an economic impact associated with fewer Forest Service individuals and families living and spending in Prineville. We feel this will be a short-term impact that will become less evident as growth trends in Crook County continue."
In the letter, copies of which were sent to state and Congressional officials as well as local officials and others, Weldon asked that everyone continue to work together. "We welcome your suggestion of forming an informal communication group to help identify your needs," she wrote.