With another wildfire season fast approaching, we checked in with the Bureau of Land Management about any action it was taking to reduce the threat to Crooked River Ranch.
The short answer is: not this year.
On March 12, President Donald Trump signed into law legislation introduced by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, to help protect Crooked River Ranch from wildfire. The bill moved the boundary line for the adjacent wilderness study area away from the community.
That matters because the area around the ranch is a tinderbox featuring a canyon — and if fire loves anything, it’s leaping up a hill. A wilderness study designation means there are all sorts of regulations about using mechanized equipment to do any mowing, thinning or other fuels reduction. Basically, you can’t.
The bill was a bipartisan Oregon success. Walden finally got the boundary change made, though Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., worked on the same issue in the past. Sens. Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., both helped Walden’s bill through the Senate.
After the bill was signed, Walden sent out a news release saying in part: “I look forward to the Bureau of Land Management acting promptly to prioritize management and fuels reduction around Crooked River Ranch as soon as possible.”
Ranch residents are going to have to wait, though, perhaps years. The BLM has to make tough choices among many priorities for where it does fuel reduction. It also has work to do in advance before any project can start.
“We’re now working on the next phases of hazardous fuel reduction and planning for out-years that will include the ranch,” said Lisa Clark, a public affairs officer with the BLM. “We will have to do an environmental assessment for this the same way we would for any other fuel reduction treatment, so we won’t be able to get in there this summer.”
The effort to reduce the danger at Crooked River Ranch did accomplish an important objective. More needs to happen. Members of Congress regularly acknowledge that there’s a gap between the resources the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service get and the wildfire reduction work needed. But Congress continues to treat wildfire as an emergency to react to — not one to prevent.