Questions still being asked about FS's plan to move
After hearing a committee's recommendation, Forest Service officials say they will 'take more comment' and possibly appoint a high level overseer for the OchocosThe latest information on the US Forest Service proposal to combine the headquarters staff from the Ochoco National Forest with the Deschutes National Forest appears to have been put on hold, for a while at least.
County Judge Scott Cooper said he had talked with Forest Supervisor Leslie Weldon earlier this week and learned about a few changes. "She told me the Forest Service has temporarily withdrawn their plans of combining the two Forests, while they consult with the community and Congressional delegation."
Apparently none of the members of Oregon's Congressional delegation have taken a position or even responded to the recommendations presented recently by the committee appointed to investigate the proposal to merge.
Responding to pressure from various local entities, the three members of the Oregon Congressional delegation requested a further study on the proposal. Toward this end a seven-member 'working group' was formed to look into the move, and last month the group issued its report.
The issue came to a head about a year ago when 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. Local officials complained that the decision had been made without taking into account the impact on Prineville. It appeared that the potential economic and social impact would be great and include the removal of 50 jobs from Prineville.
Copies of a letter from local officials was forwarded to the Oregon Congressional delegation and, with the level of complaints at a high pitch, the delegation responded and the working group was formed.
Called the Forest Service Ad Hoc committee, and the membership included two Forest Service employees, District Ranger Art Currier and the transition leader for the Ochoco-Deschutes National Forests David Summer. Another member was a retired Forest official, Mike Lunn, former Supervisor of the Siskiyou-Rogue National Forest.
After meeting many times in the past three months the committee, presenting their preliminary facts, suggested that more work needs to be done. However the report starts out with the statement that, in their view, the decision to exclude Prineville as a potential site for a combined Supervisor's Office was premature and poorly communicated.
Now, with Congress adjourned for its summer break, no position is being taken by the delegation.
Cooper said Forest Supervisor's latest proposal, which includes assigning a 'supervisory level' person to oversee the Ochoco NF will not work. "It is not what we asked for. The Ochoco needs to be have stand-alone supervisor. The Ochoco National Forest was created by an act of Congress," Cooper explained, "and it can't be undone by a regional decision."
In addition, if a supervisor can appoint someone to over see the Ochocos, he warned, another supervisor can unappoint that position later.
Cooper said he believes Weldon wants to complete the consolidation of the two Forests, but she and her staff are holding back because they doesn't have Congressional support or community support. "If they had Congressional support, they'd move ahead in a heartbeat. They created the committee and didn't get the answer they wanted, so they are waiting."
It may be possible to get an idea of what the Congressional delegation plans to do. One of the three, US Sen. Gordon Smith is holding a town hall meeting today and Cooper said that topic is at the top of his list to ask about.
"It's almost uncanny. This first came to light in a town hall meeting with Sen. Smith about a year ago when the Forest Service said there were no plans to merge. Now a year later we'll see what the Forest Service has to say. If Sen. Smith lets them get away with it, well, shame on him," Cooper said.
A full report on the town hall meeting will be presented in next Tuesday's edition.