By Marilynne Keyser

M y husband and I are longtime residents of Crooked River Ranch. Our home is on the Deschutes Canyon rim near the Deschutes Canyon-Steelhead Falls Wilderness Study Area. These nearby public lands are one of the main reasons we chose to build here.

Along with our neighbors, we are concerned about wildfires that might move onto CRR from the WSA.

However, I have to take issue with Rep. Greg Walden’s recent guest column where he suggests that his bill, The Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act, is the best way to address this concern.

First, removing 832 acres from the WSA, as Rep. Walden’s bill proposes, will not result in better fire protection for CRR. Contrary to statements that Rep. Walden quoted in his column, the Bureau of Land Management’s policy for the WSA is to suppress all fires aggressively because of the close proximity of homes at CRR.

In the case of fire prevention through juniper thinning, or “fuels reduction,” there is also no guarantee that Rep. Walden’s bill will result in measurable improvements. Again, simply removing land from the WSA will not result in the needed fuels treatments.

An environmental assessment would need to be completed by the BLM before a project of this magnitude could be done.

There will be significant costs, and there is no way of paying for them. Under the bureau staffing and funding levels, it is wishful thinking that fuels treatment will be accomplished with the approach Rep. Walden has taken.

In addition, private landowners have a responsibility to clear defensible space on their property. Although CRR has done a great job of thinning and trimming junipers on community property belonging to the homeowners’ association, most individual landowners on the canyon rim have done no fuels reduction (contrary to Rep. Walden’s assertion that everyone at CRR has done their part). Many CRR residents lack the money or the physical ability to do the necessary work. It’s clear a broader community effort is needed.

There are alternative strategies that would be more successful. The first and least costly strategy would be for the bureau to do fuels reduction on BLM land that abuts CRR but is outside the WSA.

A great example would be the Foley Waters area south of the Steelhead Falls campground. If funds were made available for fuels treatments, this would be a win-win for everyone.

A second and more costly strategy would be for the BLM to do fuels reduction within the WSA. Contrary to assertions in Rep. Walden’s column, it is possible to do mechanical fuels treatment in a WSA when human lives and property are threatened.

A third and more compelling strategy was developed in 2015 when a group of stakeholders came together to consider ways to address the threat of wildfire and improve the management of public lands on the west side of CRR. There was a growing consensus that the creation of a buffer zone for fire protection directly abutting CRR could be coupled with permanent protection for the remaining WSA and other unprotected portions across the Deschutes River, including well-loved places such as Alder Springs and Lower Whychus Creek.

This balanced and reasonable approach would gain support from most people at CRR and Central Oregon.

At a town hall meeting in 2016, Rep. Walden told me that he would be willing to consider changes to his bill to address the concerns that I and many others in the community have raised. I urge Rep. Walden to stay true to his word and work with Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to craft a more balanced approach that addresses the needs of all stakeholders and that will result in fire protection for CRR.

Anything less is likely to be unsuccessful.

— Marilynne Keyser lives in Crooked River Ranch.