The ongoing saga surrounding the proposed relocation of the Ochoco National Forest office out of Prineville has taken on a different focus. The three members of the Oregon Congressional delegation have suggested the formation of a seven-member 'working group' to look into the move.
>At the request of our Congressional delegation a working group of local citizens, Forest Service personnel and others will be formed to look into the process used in deciding where the Ochoco Nat'l Forest leaders will move to
Well over a year ago, the decision was made to combine the leadership of the Ochoco National Forest with that of the Deschutes National Forest. The plan was the result of cost-cutting measures mandated by Congress.
Originally, it was announced that the combined Ochoco-Deschutes national Forest headquarters was to be located somewhere in Bend, Redmond or Prineville. Soon after that announcement was made, the decision was made by Leslie Weldon, Supervisor of the Deschutes National Forest that the leadership would be housed in a new facility to be built in either Bend or Redmond. Local officials complained that the decision had been made without taking into account the impact on Prineville. Crook County Judge Scott Cooper wrote a letter to Weldon expressing his "grave concern regarding the integrity of the decision-making process" as well as concern for the potential economic and social impact of the removal of 50 jobs from Prineville.
Copies of that letter were forwarded to the Oregon Congressional delegation and, with the level of complaints still at a high pitch, the delegation has responded.
In a letter sent to both Weldon and Cooper, and signed by all three, US Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden, the idea of a working group was discussed.
The delegation supports the goal of the Forest Service in reducing its management overhead, the letter states, but "we have expressed concerns with the impacts that the proposed move would have on the community of Prineville and on Crook County."
While these impacts include loss of jobs, the Congressmen agree that "the perception that important differences in the local economy and culture are not fully appreciated by the Forest Service leadership." This, the letter continued, "is a concern that the administrative reorganization will cause a further deterioration in the agency's ability to deliver land management services that are vital to the community and to the forest."
The formation of a working group of community leaders and people knowledgeable regarding Forest Service operations is one answer, the Congressmen conclude. These experts can look at the issues and decide how to best serve both the federal agency and, if possible, mitigate any negative local impacts.
The list suggested includes:
Brenda Comini, Director, Crook Count Commission on Children and Families
Tim DeBoodt, Crook County Extension Office
Jim Hancock, Former District Manager, Bureau of Land Management
Mike Lunn, former Forest Supervisor, Siskiyou National Forest
John Morgan, Ochoco Lumber Company
Mary Thurman, Chair, Prineville-Crook County Economic Development Committee and an official representative from the Forest Service
In addition, it was recommended that Diane Bohle, executive Director of the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce serve as convener and facilitator of the group.
It was also suggested that the working group start work as soon as possible and conclude its efforts by July 1.