Great American Outdoors Act funding will improve a wide range of forest infrastructure

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Shane JeffriesWe're happy to see the first snow fall on the Ochoco National Forest and hope that means we're in for some cold weather and deep snow drifts in the coming months. With this cooler, wetter weather, our firefighters are already hard at work burning piles leftover from previous commercial thinning operations across the forest. Removing these dense accumulations of fuel near homes, facilities and roads decreases fire behavior and reduces additional risk to firefighters and the public in the hot summer months.

While most of our field work has finished for the year, we can reflect back on a very successful summer for the Forest. First, we have secured funding through the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) to improve a wide range of forest infrastructure. This means improved access for you to get here and a better recreation experience once you arrive. The Ochoco will receive 87 new fire rings and 95 new picnic tables for our busiest campgrounds. We will also be partnering with Heart of Oregon and Americorp to move and install all the new equipment.

The second project chosen for funding is rehabilitating 9.6 miles of Forest Road 42. This project would consist of grinding old asphalt, the removal and repurposing of grindings, adding base rock, and then repaving and striping. Forest Road 42 has the second highest traffic of all roads on the Ochoco National Forest. It serves as the primary access and haul route for timber sales, wildfire suppression, grazing permittees and cattle haul, accessing private inholdings, and is a major contributor to the economic stability of local communities. The road also serves as the main access road to Cold Spring Recreation Rental, Deep Creek Campground and the eastern portion of the Ochoco National Forest. While Phase 1 of the project was delayed due to Industrial Fire Precaution Level IV that was in place for an unprecedented two months this summer, this project is slated to now begin as soon as possible in order to continue the work in the spring. Not only will this repaving improve visitor access to a variety of recreation sites, but it will also allow visitors, contractors and landowners to safely move across the forest on this major thoroughfare.

Next year's funding for GAOA requests are tied to the Fiscal Year 2022 Congressional Budget, which still needs to be approved and passed. The project we are expecting to be funded is tied to forest-wide cattle guard repair and replacements. Range improvements are designed to improve forage production and vegetation composition by better distributing use, stabilizing soil and improving hydrology conditions, including habitat for fish and wildlife. This project will provide safe passage of vehicles over cattle guards and will keep livestock within designated areas for range management.

Over the summer, our engineering staff has also been hard at work on multiple projects at the Lamonta Compound in Prineville. The Forest received the first of three phases of funding to begin construction of a new Fire Operations facility that will house five engine modules, a hand crew and the Prineville Interagency Hotshots into one facility. The new facility will feature a training/briefing room large enough for joint BLM/USFS operations, leading to significant improvements in safe and effective wildland fire response across this landscape that often sees thousands of acres of wildfire every year. This project aligns with the goals of the National Cohesive Strategy (NCS) for a safe and effective wildfire response and with completion would serve as a proud example of meaningful progress toward the goals of the NCS.

In conjunction with the Fire Operations facility, the Forest received funding for exterior structural restoration of three historic Civilian Conservation Corp era warehouse facilities at Lamonta Compound. The Forest is reliant on these structures for storing equipment, materials and supplies along with providing space for fire crews, youth crews, facilities and recreation maintenance crews. Through collaboration with Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, restoration of these facilities will return them to their original façade and extend their useful life by another 25 to 30 years.

I also acknowledge that we have been challenged by continued litigation, including at Walton Lake Developed Recreation Management Area, where we have proposed a sanitation harvest to remove all trees that serve as host species to a damaging root disease, in order to address public safety and forest health. We ask for your continued patience as we await the results of that lawsuit, which is impacting our most popular campground on the Forest.

One final thing—while we have been able to secure funding for large scale plans on longer term projects, our staff continues working to enhance services right now to ensure your experience on the Forest is a good one. This year, our recreation trails staff cleared 105 miles of trails. Our engineering staff has quietly been improving water lines at Ochoco Divide Campground to ensure that there will be water for next summer for the first time in many years.

The Upper Beaver prescribed burn we implemented in March was the scene of a wildfire in July that, without removal of tall grasses, brush and ladder fuels during the prescribed burn, would've certainly become a larger wildfire in the hot and dry conditions we experienced in July. Instead, they were able to get around it quickly to move onto other priorities.

We hope that your next visit to the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grassland is a good one!

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