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Completed stream restoration projects and other upgrades as well as some prescribed burns

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shane JeffriesWith the passing of another holiday season, and before we begin making plans for the coming year, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on 2019 and highlight some of the great work that took place in support of the Ochoco National Forest and the Crooked River National Grassland.

An incredible amount of work goes into public lands management, from both our dedicated employees as well as the many people in our communities who donate their time and expertise. Some of the work involves management of programs and services that recur every year, while some represents new efforts with exciting potential. It's difficult to only name a few.

Last year, I'm proud to share that we administered our grazing program to standard across 68 allotments that span four counties. This program serves local ranchers with roughly 12,000 head of cattle and close to 4,000 head of sheep. Our restoration activities allowed us to offer 14 million board feet of timber products to private purchasers last year with the successful administration of nine timber sales, two that were purchased by Ochoco Lumber Company for the torrefaction plant in John Day.

The National Forest completed more than 15 miles of stream restoration and a 15-acre meadow restoration in partnership with the National Forest Foundation and local watershed councils, and funding from Portland General Electric, to improve habitat for threatened Mid-Columbia River steelhead and sensitive redband trout. Our invasive plants program continued its work to detect and eradicate numerous infestations across Central Oregon in partnership with many local governments and organizations.

Fire season was unusually quiet last summer, which was a nice break, and the cooler conditions allowed us to accomplish some prescribed burning that we've been trying to get done for several years. The Canyon 66 burn, located near Ochoco Ranger Station, accomplished more than 5,000 acres of treatment in just three days. It would not have been possible without a lot of coordination and support from our local fire departments and law enforcement. We were able to continue prescribed fire into the fall, burning several thousand more acres of juniper jackpots near McKay and Big Summit Prairie.

Last spring, our recreation and engineering employees completed a number of upgrades to improve the visitor experience at Skull Hollow campground and trailhead, the busiest recreation site we manage. This work included doubling the number of campsites, adding bathrooms, and beginning work to designate parking and driving areas,for the many different recreationists that visit the area.

We were very excited to see construction begin last year on the new Prineville Helibase located at Prineville Airport to house the Central Oregon Rappellers. We want to thank Crook County and the city of Prineville for all of their hard work to make this facility a reality and provide our rappellers a place to train and stage equipment.

We also received a completed proposal last spring from the Ochoco Trails Strategy Group for an expansion of nonmotorized trails in the Ochoco mountains. This was a grassroots effort from many in the community to put together a well thought out proposal for new or extended trails in the Ochocos for hikers, cyclists and equestrians. We are very appreciative of the group's efforts and look forward to bringing their ideas to the general public for more consideration.

The Ochoco National Forest and the Crooked River National Grassland take pride in the ongoing work with young people in our communities, through many different programs in partnership with a lot of great organizations. Last year, youth conservation corps programs across Central Oregon served more than 100 young people, providing summer employment on public lands and mentorship from land management professionals. Nearly 800 Crook County kindergarten through third graders attended Wild Fest last spring (formerly known as Fin, Fire and Feather) in Ochoco Creek Park, and many more local students participated in natural resources education programs.

The Paulina Ranger District completed a large environmental impact statement for the Black Canyon Vegetation Management Project last fall, a multi-year planning effort that will guide restoration work and commercial tree harvest across thousands of acres east of Big Summit Prairie over the next decade. This project would not have been possible without continued support and input from the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative and other partners.

Speaking of partners, the Oregon Department of Forestry continues to provide much-needed assistance in preparing thinning units on the Ochoco National Forest, and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife helped with road decommissioning projects in support of watershed restoration, both under agreements made possible by the Good Neighbor Authority, which was authorized in recent versions of the federal Farm Bill. The National Forest also received generous funding from the Oregon Department of Forestry's Federal Forest Restoration Program to complete survey work needed for fuels reduction projects we are planning.

On a similar note, the Ochoco National Forest and the Natural Resources Conservation Service completed plans for a large-scale restoration and fuels reduction project in the Upper Crooked River watershed, in collaboration with a broad group of partner organizations and government agencies. We are waiting to hear whether this project receives competitive funding from our Washington, D.C., national offices. If successful, we stand to receive several million dollars in funding to carry out resource improvement projects to benefit private and public resources across more than 750,000 acres.

These are just a few of the highlights from last year. We appreciate everything that our employees and the communities we serve do to support the Ochoco National Forest and the Crooked River National Grassland. Happy New Year. We look forward to another great year ahead.


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