As Bend residents suffer under a pall of smoke this week, they should give some thought to their neighbors to the north at Crooked River Ranch. The ranch lies next to the Deschutes Canyon-Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area. As the Chetco Bar Fire near Brookings on the Oregon Coast has shown, wilderness and civilization do not mix.
The Chetco Bar Fire is burning in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area about five miles out of Brookings on the Oregon Coast. Just a few days ago it was only a bit more than two miles from the community. It has burned at least seven homes and has become the No. 1 firefighting priority in the nation.
That fire and its impact on the community of Brookings should be a lesson to Congress, which controls the ultimate fate of the wilderness study area near Crooked River Ranch.
The boundary lines of the proposed wilderness so close to homes does not make sense. Current law makes it difficult, at best, to keep the risk of fires in wilderness to a minimum. Getting the permission needed to log or clean up understory to restore wilderness forest health is nearly impossible, for one thing. In fact, fires in the wilderness are considered a part of the natural cycle of events, and as a result they’re often simply watched until they begin threatening the people living nearby.
That might be a reasonable approach to wilderness areas far from civilization, but the Deschutes Canyon study area is not only close to Crooked River Ranch, it actually forms the western boundary of much of the subdivision. Should a fire start within the study area, it would threaten the homes and lives of the more than 4,000 people who live there.
Congress should move to require two things. New wilderness areas should be located far from established communities. And substantial fire buffers should be created where older wilderness areas and developments are close to one another.