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Public weighs in on plans for area's public lands
But BLM meeting also latest example of move to 'open houses,' one-on-one discussion
By Barney Lerten
November 22, 2003
It may not be a favorite among reporters accustomed to, even yearning for fiery, confrontational public hearings. But the trend is clear: most government agencies in Central Oregon have shifted in recent years to present complex, often controversial projects or issues in an “open house” format, where the public can get one-on-one answers in a more private, less heated setting.
While that can reduce a reporter’s role to one of three tasks – waiting, interrupting or eavesdropping – it’s hard to argue against the notion that it provides more of an avenue for the public and government to interact, share ideas and actually communicate, rather than hog a microphone, ask a question that’s more of a speech, or judge the relative popularity of a position by the volume of applause, boos, hisses or groans.
Such was the case last Thursday night in the dimly lit gym at Highland (formerly Kenwood) Elementary School on Newport Avenue, where more than 50 citizens turned out to learn more about the Bureau of Land Management Prineville District’s draft Upper Deschutes Resource Management Plan.
Mollie Chaudet, the project manager, did give a traditional slide-show presentation of the high points of the complex, voluminous document (available online at www.or.blm.gov/Prineville/Deschutes_RMP/Home.htm), designed to direct management of more than 400,000 acres of public lands across the High Desert.
But when it came time for questions and answers, the audience got up and strode to the back wall, where a series of stations had been set up on each element of the proposal, from wildlife to recreation or military uses of some of the land.
It was the last in a series of four public hearings around the region, each of which drew at least a few dozen participants. The 90-day public comment period continues through Jan. 15, and the final version of the plan is due in about a year. And since written comments are the key, that’s one reason public meetings aren’t public hearings, explained Virginia Gibbons
Government rarely makes it easy to understand what’s at stake, the federal government even more so, with all its obscure acronyms and “preferred alternatives,” etc. But diving into such documents isn’t only for the vested interests or those on the extremes, although news reports logically trend toward the controversial – in this case, a proposal to ban motorized vehicles from the 38,000-acre “Badlands” wilderness study area east of Bend.
“I don’t want the noise and stink and smell,” said Dick Tobiason of Bend, who loves to hike on the public lands and bring his grandkids out to teach the flora and fauna.
Trail, bike enthusiasts share views:
Former city councilor John Schubert was on hand, and asked his interests, he mentioned that he’d like to see a regional trail extend along the North Unit Irrigation District canal, from Bend through the Pine Nursery property to Redmond, Smith Rock, perhaps on to Madras.
Mike DeJohn, Eastern Oregon representative for the International Mountain Bike Association, likes what he sees in the plan. “I think it’s going to be really great,” he said, especially with mountain biking to be allowed in Redmond’s Dry Canyon. “Hikers and bikers share well,” he said.
Bob Speik, who runs the www.TraditionalMountaineering.org Website, said the Badlands, for example, are “not very useful for mountain bikers,” as the trails there are too soft. Jim Karn of the Central Oregon Trails Alliance said, “I think we’re fundamentally pretty pleased with the preferred alternative.”
“The touchstone of our planning effort is to consider a balance of uses” on the public lands, said Robert Towne, manager of the BLM’s Deschutes Resource Area.
Chaudet said the military training area is proposed to expand to an area north of Highway 126, up from the 30,000 acres at present to 50,000 acres, as well as some “rotational areas,” such as on the Millican Plateau.
The term “High Desert Special Recreation Management Area” is mostly simply what it sounds like, but can also mean additional funding for the effort to put the focus more on separated recreation uses in the more rural, southeast portion of the planning area and mixed uses closer to the cities. That’s a chance from the current system, which basically means anyone can do anything anywhere, and they usually do.
Three-fourths of the land is slated for retaining by the BLM, due to its resource values, but about 20 percent could be exchanged with other public agencies for equal or better property, to serve their mutual purposes.
Another 1 percent has limited values and would be disposed of, and another 1 percent is slated for use in “community expansion” as Redmond moves into urban reserve areas, as well as lands around the county fairgrounds south of Redmond and in the La Pine area as well, Chaudet said. There’s also a corridor between Bend and Redmond slated for future road needs, to alleviate congestion at the Yew Avenue interchange.
ATVers wonder if closure goes too far:
There is planned some new closures to shooting as well, near residential developments and in some recreational areas. About 3 percent of the land would be closed to shooting year-round, and 20 percent except when hunting seasons are under way.
Residents Larry and Vera Riser like to snowmobile and ride the range in an ATV, and they aren’t too supportive of the idea of shutting them off the Badlands.
“I don’t think they should completely remove it from there, just limit it to the designated trails,” said Larry Riser. “I don’t believe closing it’s the answer.”
But they know that some users of the land have caused trouble for the law-abiders, trashing the land, destroying cave pictographs and the like. “I think that’s terrible,” Vera Riser said, holding a copy of the 1,000-page-plus document to take home and read. (A less-hefty version was available on a CD).
Redmond resident Scott Summers of the Central Oregon Motorcycle and ATV Club also isn’t a fan of the proposed closure of the Badlands, which he claims “does not fit any criteria for a wilderness study area, with all the roads out there, all the fencing – it used to be a bombing range.”
But Summers doesn’t hold out a lot of hope of changing anyone’s minds about the planned closure: “I think it’s a done deal,” he said. “It’s all set in stone.”
Towne soon struck up a conversation with Bob Lever of Bend, a self-described “avid motorcycle rider” who knows of the problem OHVs – off-highway vehicles – have caused on McKay Creek in the Ochocos, “tearing up the creek beds” and the like. “Instead of addressing the problem, and giving OHVs a place to go, nothing has been done.”
“This plan takes that into account,” Towne said, with “designated areas specifically for that,” working it out in consultation with the riders who will use them. That’s important to Lever.
The Badlands, which the Oregon Natural Desert Association has pushed to make a formal wilderness area, would be designed for “softer uses,” Towne said.
“I don’t mind that,” Lever said, though he added. “I do care about things being so exclusionary” elsewhere.
“I think you’ll find that’s limited,” Towne replied. “Some areas have motorized and non-motorized uses. Some areas exclude one or the other. “
And the BLM official told the motorcyclist that the agency is looking at opening the North Millican OHV area year-round, so that it’s available in the winter, when people come off the higher-elevation areas and are looking for places to ride. “We’ve had OHV areas open when nobody wanted to use them,” he acknowledged.
“We don’t want to tear up the land – I don’t believe closing (the Badlands to off-road vehicles) is the answer, nobody does,” Lever said.
Bill Dean, a BLM wildlife biologist, heard that as well. “People don’t want exclusive use” of the land, he said. “They are willing to share it.”
Bill Fockler of the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association, said he can understand why the BLM is looking at shutting off shooting around rural residential areas, and likes the idea of homeowners associations going to the county with such proposals, if a majority approve, then the county working with the BLM.
“The real problem with shooting in this area, in my opinion, is the uninformed shooter who doesn’t know what’s in the area behind where he’s shooting,” Fockler said – and the limited resources the BLM and sheriff’s office have to enforce the rules. “Education is the key,” he said.
As the meeting wound down and the poster boards came off the walls, Bill Marlette of the Oregon Natural Desert Association chatted with Chaudet and Tobiason, showing their latest newspaper insert and the maze of red lines that show OHV trails outside the proposed wilderness.
Marlette said his group is still pushing hard for a Badlands wilderness area, but that Rep. Greg Walden wants to hear where Deschutes County commissioners are on the issue – and commissioners don’t want to get ahead of the delegation’s wishes. “So we’re in this cart-horse situation,” he said, but as for the proposal to close the area to motorized use, “hands down, it’ll help.”
“You can trace every problem in the Badlands to off-road vehicle use,” Marlette claimed, also disputing that enforcement would be costly or difficult. “The Badlands would be a relatively easy area to manage, in terms of keeping vehicles out of there. If you trace the entire boundary, it already is fenced or is private land, or the COI (Central Oregon Irrigation) canal. It’s actually very doable.
There are a lot of other issues, large and small, for all to chew over in the thick planning document for the future of a vast swath of Central Oregon public lands. But amid all the one-on-one conversations going on at the elementary school gym that night, one didn’t hear any shouting, perhaps in part because no one had a big audience to make that a tempting course of action.
Questions earnestly asked (and patiently answered), even positions passionately expressed, likely have more value in the long run, on both sides of the government-public equation, than the dramatics of flaring tempers and strident defenses.
Read more . . .
OpEd - OHV and Snowmobile use being reviewed by land managers
OHV use curtailed by new USFS policy decisions
OpEd: Badlands part of recreation management area
Op Ed: OHV drivers should not fear The Badlands Wilderness
Snowmobile access to summit of Mt. St. Helens questioned by The Mountaineers
Map of huge OHV dominated areas adjoining the Badlands
The Badlands Wilderness preservation puzzle
A brief history of The Badlands Wilderness Study Area
Photos of a Badlands Tour with ONDA
Photos of a Navigation Noodle in The Badlands with ONDA
Vandals destroy, deface Badlands Pictographs!
Senator Wyden tests local support of The Badlands Wilderness designation