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Ochoco Nat'l Forest HQ will stay in Prineville

US Rep. Greg Walden addressed the weekly Prineville Rotary lunch this week and announced the proposed merger of the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests has been dropped.
August 30, 2001 -- Congressman Walden brought the news to Prineville Tuesday; the proposed merger of the two National Forests has been dropped and a new supervisor for the Ochoco will be named soon
   The battle is over and Prineville won.
   That was the feeling expressed Tuesday afternoon a few minutes after Congressman Greg Walden made that announcement at this week's Prineville Rotary luncheon. As Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said after hearing the news, "It pays to stomp your feet and throw a tantrum."
   Walden, touring his district during the Congressional Labor Day recess, had a busy day in central Oregon. Starting off with an early morning meeting in Madras where he talked with officials about the Lower Deschutes Management Plan and other topics. He then traveled to Prineville to meet with local leaders. One of whom was Leslie Weldon, supervisor of the combined Ochoco and Deschutes National Forests. Walden has advocated maintaining the current structure of having the Ochoco National Forest headquarters, with its own supervisor, remain in Prineville.
   In a letter signed by Walden and US Sen. Gordon Smith to Dale Bosworth, chief of the US Forest Service, the impacts of having the two major sawmills close down followed by the loss of Forest Service personnel was explained. That letter, and a similar worded letter from US Sen. Ron Wyden, was made public Tuesday afternoon.
   "Our collective opinion at this time," the Walden/Smith letter admonishes, "is that the USFS's hope for budgetary savings resulting from the proposed reorganization would be far outweighed by the prospect of further damage to Prineville and Crook County." The letter closed by saying the two "look(ed) forward to learning your thoughts on this issue soon."
   Responding to the issue, Forest Supervisor Leslie Weldon said in a letter dated Aug. 28, that "after considerable deliberation and listening on our part I feel the best course of action at this time is to re-establish the Forest Service Supervisor position for the Ochoco. In light of continuing significant budget reductions, we will work with the community to define and implement opportunities to capture efficiencies among the national forests and the BLM."
   Weldon said action will be taken to follow through on this decision immediately. She expects to have an acting Forest Supervisor appointed on or about the first of October.
   National Forest Management Plan
   Along with the news that the Forest Service has agreed to keep the Deschutes and Ochoco national forests separate, he said he has been working hard to make changes in the National Forest Management Plan.
   "I met with John Shelk (Ochoco Lumber Co.) and officials from Crown Pacific about their mill's recent closing. I think with the new (Bush) administration we will get a review of the plan. I will continue to try to educate my colleagues in Congress about that. When you lose 70, 80 or 100 jobs at the mill, that's just the tip of the iceberg." The product those mills produced, he went on to explain, gave jobs to a lot of people.
   One of the problems, Walden believes, is the mind-set that with forest issues one is either pro-environment or anti-environment.
   "What we are asking for is pro-environment. We're asking for healthier forests. It'll help our economy if we're in there harvesting. People have to realize that without good harvesting practices, we have heavier brush buildup and deceased trees. Where we used to have 20 trees per acre, we now have 700. Then when we have a devastating fire there is no such thing as stream setbacks. We should be ashamed; all our 39 million acres of national forests are subject to catastrophic fire. We need to change the law. I believe the Northwest Forest Plan can be changed and it can be done administratively."
   Any changes, though, will not happen overnight Walden warned. "It's easy to say, but hard to get it done."
   Klamath Falls water issues
   The Congressman continued with comments on the Klamath Falls water issue: A long time ago, in a conversation with former Congressman Bob Smith he said he was told "the number one issue would be water.
   "All over the west," Walden said, echoing Sen. Smith's words, "Klamath Falls is the poster child for water issues. It is a 24/7 job for me." Before ending the Labor Day recess, Walden plans to meet with high governmental officials in Klamath Falls to discuss possible solutions to the problems there.
   On the subject of the federal budget and the tax surplus,
   Walden's comments were reassuring. "We are still going to balance the budget," he said, adding "we are still going to reduce the national debt."
   Even with all the gloom and doom news that the federal government will have to dip into the Social Security fund to pay for government, Walden claimed that the government is still on track, "to pay off the national debt in the next ten years."
   Walden ended his day in central Oregon by traveling to Bend to meet with Oregon's state Treasurer Randall Edwards. Both men have a great interest in education and they were slated to discuss recent educational benefits enacted on both the state and federal levels.
   From Bend, Walden said he was going home to Hood River to spend the holiday weekend with his family.