Merging National Forests is not a new Forest Service idea
At least once before the US Forest Service took a long hard look at merging the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests but back then public pressure caused a change of plansThe recent proposal presented by the US Forest Service isn't the first time in recent history that officials have worked at consolidating the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forest. A little research turned up the story (USFS plans forest consolidation; Central Oregonian, Oct. 5, 1973) explaining plans to join the Ochoco National Forest with several other Forests in the region.
According to the story of the day, three proposals had been studied that involved the Ochocos. The first was to merge the Ochoco and Snow Mountain District of the Ochoco National Forest with the Malheur National Forest; the second was to incorporate the Burns Ranger District of the Malheur into the Ochocos; or meld the Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests with the combined headquarters to be in Bend.
Public resistance, however, was fierce. In announcing the decision not to continue with consolidation plans, the Ochoco Supervisor at the time, Les Sullivan, explained what he thought had happened. The regional office in Portland, he said, "probably met with too much public and political resistance in moving some of these forest headquarters out of the towns where they are located."
Then, as now, the major concern was the loss of jobs. Sullivan said that if the Ochocos were combined with the Deschutes forest, with headquarter staff moving to Bend, about 40 jobs would have been effected. Of the approximately 70 people employed at the forest headquarters in Prineville, about 30 would have remained.
Reminiscent of Forest Supervisor Tom Schmidt's comment last October when it was announced that the Forest Service was planning to combine the Ochoco with the Deschutes forest, Sullivan explained more than 25 years ago that his position would have to be eliminated.
Proof that public resistance can win out, even when dealing with a federal bureaucracy, came with the October, 1973 announcement from the Pacific Northwest regional office of the Forest Service. The US Forest Service, it was reported, is "discontinuing for the foreseeable future: all plans it had to consolidate several forests in the region even though it was felt "there were advantages" to consolidation.
Today we know how long the "foreseeable future" is, at least as far as the Forest Service is concerned.
According to the October, 1973 news story, other proposed consolidations were also dropped. These included administrative consolidations of the Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests in southwestern Oregon; Malheur and Umatilla forests in eastern Oregon; and the Snoqualmie and Mount Baker forests in northwestern Washington. As of today, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest appear to be the only two that have consolidated.