By Marilynne Keyser

My name is Marilynne Keyser. For 15 years, my husband and I have lived at Crooked River Ranch, an 11,000-acre unincorporated homeowners’ association located in both Jefferson and Deschutes counties. The Deschutes/Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area that is the subject of Congressman Greg Walden’s recent press release shares a border with our community.

Four years ago, neighbors who believe there should be more local input and involvement in public lands management came together and created the Friends and Neighbors (FANs) of the Deschutes Canyon Area. Our supporters include ranchers, hikers, farmers, local business owners, birders, kayakers and fly-fishers. As a volunteer and president of FANs, I am so proud of what we accomplished. Just last year, more than 900 volunteers spent 2,200 hours learning about Central Oregon birds, plants and animals and cleaning up, restoring and protecting public trails and waterways.

Rep. Greg Walden introduced legislation in Congress to reduce the size of the WSA by changing its boundaries. While the stated intent of Rep. Walden’s legislation is good — protecting Crooked River Ranch from wildfire — it’s a shame he ignored the work of a stakeholder group at CRR working collaboratively to develop a balanced approach to meet the wildfire concerns of the community and to permanently protect Lower Whychus Creek and the middle portion of the Deschutes River.

At the suggestion of Sen. Ron Wyden, FANs worked for over a year with others in our community, including the CRR fire chief and the CRR homeowners association board president, to develop a balanced proposal for the Whychus-Deschutes area that would give CRR the tools to protect itself from wildfire while also addressing long-standing questions about the management of one of the most scenic, wild places in Central Oregon. A plan emerged that is a true win-win solution. It includes urgently needed, common sense solutions that would measurably improve the safety of the community. Chief among these solutions is the removal of WSA status for certain public lands above the canyon rim abutting Crooked River Ranch, which will facilitate juniper thinning for fire prevention. In exchange, this plan will permanently protect unique public lands that provide great economic, ecological and recreational value for both the local community and Central Oregon as a whole.

Permanent protection for the Whychus-Deschutes area will guarantee clean water, abundant fish and wildlife and untrammeled trail access to some of the most fascinating and treasured places in Central Oregon. Native American pictographs share canyon walls with golden eagles, while mule deer and elk roam the grasslands above the river. Rainbow and brown trout share the water with cruising otters.

As volunteers and residents of CRR, FANs members have held community meetings and used online surveys to identify the values and concerns of our neighbors. Many people favor permanent protection for the Whychus-Deschutes area, but they are worried about the wildfire risks close to their homes. So are we. Our collaborative experience shows what is possible when members of the community come together to find solutions for managing public lands. We have done our part.

Now we are asking Congressman Walden to work with us and other leaders in Congress to explore a more balanced approach that addresses the needs of all stakeholders.

— Marilynne Keyser lives in Crooked River Ranch.