Community opposition to Oregon Wild is loud and clear

Throughout the last four meetings on the Oregon Wild’s proposed Ochoco Mountains National Recreation Area, a familiar refrain continually emerged.

We don’t want to meet in the middle on your plan. We do not and will never want to have a conversation about the recreation area. We don’t need another organization on top of the federal land agencies governing how we take care of the forest. This conversation needs to end.

Oregon Wild representatives and proponents of the proposal have tried to convince the local public time and time over that this proposal will ultimately end in a compromise that everybody in the community can live with. They have told Crook County residents that they will take their feedback and make adjustments to the plan and that after a conversation with the community that is just now beginning, the proposal will reach a middle ground.

That is becoming increasingly hard to fathom at this point. Listening to Ochoco Mountains Organizer Sarah Cuddy, she seems to genuinely want what is best for the community she grew up in and for the Ochocos she loves to spend time in. But to her misfortune, she is trying to move a plan forward as part of an organization that as she acknowledged is not trusted at all by the bulk of the community. She is asking a community burned by past conservation efforts that have shut down all but one local mill to give another conservation and restoration plan a chance because if both sides work together, it won’t take everything away.

Consider the degree of opposition thus far. ATV enthusiasts, hunters, snowmobilers and sled dog mushers have repeatedly rejected it. Hunters and miners oppose it. Timber executives don’t like it despite assurances that timber thinning will be part of the plan, and wildfire fighters oppose it on the basis that fighting fire in a wilderness designation is all but impossible.

Then you have the Crook County Court and Prineville City Council who each recently took turns listening to nearly two hours of testimony from a crowd of 600 or more people. The community opposition was quite clear to them and based on that and their own personal concerns about the recreation plan, both governing bodies took an official stance in opposition. A letter confirming that stance will be delivered to the county’s congressional delegation this week.

None of this opposition is intended to say that the forest is fine the way it is. Many people have agreed during the past few years that forest management needs some help. The escalation of wildfires every summer is often cited as evidence of that. But they do not trust Oregon Wild to fix it in a way in which Crook County will benefit. Local residents want to dictate how their neighboring public lands are cared for, and will soon take steps in that direction as efforts to develop a national resources management plan have now emerged.

It is time for Oregon Wild to step back and let their plan go. Why not partner with county residents on their upcoming plan? Isn’t that the way it should work anyway – an outside organization helping a local group develop their forest plan, not the other way around?

It is time for the conservation organization to act on what it has heard during the past few months. If they truly do that, they won’t tweak the plan to reach some sort of compromise. They won’t try to push their plan ahead against mounting opposition. If they are truly listening and responding in kind, they will just drop it. That’s what the community is asking them to do, loud and clear, and that's what they should do.

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