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We hope you are able to get out and enjoy the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland in these last few weeks of winter

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shane JeffriesThis year we are looking forward to continuing the planning and implementation of several projects across the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland.

Contractors in the Maury Mountains have begun removing trees in the Frog Fire Roadside Danger Tree Mitigation project area on the Lookout Mountain Ranger District of the Ochoco National Forest. The 4,020-acre Frog Fire resulted in numerous dead and damaged trees adjacent to Forest Service roads. These trees are a danger to the public and Forest Service personnel as they have the potential to fall into roadways. We have closed several roads in the southwest corner of the Maury's to ensure that this work is done safely and efficiently. We anticipate that the work will be completed by late spring and we will be able to reopen the roads to the public at that time.

We will also be moving forward with our prescribed burning plans for the spring. We are working closely with our partners at the county health departments to minimize smoke impacts to communities while remaining committed to continuing this important work after last year's devastating wildfire season. We know that prescribed burning in our fire adapted ecosystem helps reduce the risk of large-scale wildfire events, which protects our communities around the forest and grassland. These prescribed burns also stimulate regeneration in our native grasses and forbs and restores balance to our forest that has adapted over the eons with high frequency, low intensity wildfire. To keep up with planned prescribed burns in Central Oregon, remember to visit: www.centraloregonfire.org.

In December 2020, I signed the Decision Notice for the Walton Lake Restoration Project designed to treat forest health issues in and around the Walton Lake Campground and recreation site. Forest pathologists have determined a laminated root rot infestation is widespread within the developed recreation area, creating forest health and public safety concerns. Additionally, the build-up of dead and decaying trees also creates a fire hazard. We know that Walton Lake is one of the most well-loved recreation sites on the Ochocos and while our recreation staff removes select hazard trees every year for the safety of the public recreating in the area, we look forward to implementing this decision completely so you can enjoy the lake and Round Mountain trail safely once again.

On the Paulina Ranger District just east of Big Summit Prairie, we have started implementing forest restoration activities in a 16,000-acre project area called the Black Mountain Vegetation Management Project (BMVMP). In this area, we are using active management tools to restore balance to our ponderosa pine dominated ecosystem, enhancing and restoring hardwood species and protecting and improving wildlife habitat for a wide array of species. We will use a variety of tools to accomplish this, including commercial and noncommercial thinning, prescribed burning, replanting, and stream restoration. We have already initiated one of the projects from the BMVMP east of Big Summit Prairie called Muddy DxP Timber Sale. You may have seen logging equipment in this area and the contractors are hauling material off the forest now, so please be on the lookout if you're traveling in the area.

We're also proud of the work being accomplished by the Ochoco Trails Collaborative, a grassroots, community effort that developed a proposal for 100 miles non-motorized trail expansions in the Ochoco National Forest. The group includes representation from the Central Oregon Trail Alliance, Back Country Horsemen of Oregon, Oregon Equestrian Trails, and the Oregon Hunters Association, as well as hikers, local ranchers, business owners, conservationists, and the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce. Right now, the group is focusing on the design of a mountain bike trail system located in the Mill Creek drainage just outside of Prineville, and will soon begin the planning process for the Corral Flats Equestrian Endurance Trails, a 53-mile system of roads and trails for an annual permitted endurance ride and occasional group ride. We will continue to work closely with this group as they plan to improve access for a variety of users.

And finally, we have received funding from the Great American Outdoors Act for safety improvements to Forest Road 42 this summer. While this will certainly be an inconvenience while the work is being accomplished as it will result in a reroute to the north side of Big Summit Prairie, we are excited to improve this road so you can travel safely and comfortably across the forest for years to come. We do not have a timeline for the work at this point, but as soon as we do, we will be contacting private landowners and permittees and getting the word out to the many users of the forest so you can plan your trips accordingly. We also anticipate being able to apply for and receive additional funding from this Act in the coming years and will be sure to share how that money is improving conditions on the forest.

Whatever your mode of transportation, we hope you are able to get out and enjoy the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland in these last few weeks of winter. And while you're visiting, remember these projects that are happening on your working forest. These projects are employing local community members and youth while improving the condition of the forest for wildlife, restoring forest health, minimizing wildfire risk and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for our many forest users. See you outside!


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