Walden introduces bill to help prevent wildfire at central Oregon’s Crooked River Ranch

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) announced legislation on Tuesday that would adjust the boundary of a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to help protect Crooked River Ranch from wildfire.

Crooked River Ranch is an unincorporated community of approximately 5,500 residents in Jefferson County, Ore. Land adjacent to Crooked River Ranch is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is a designated WSA.

“In the area surrounding Crooked River Ranch, the juniper stands and brush are dense and basic fire prevention management isn’t being done because of misguided federal land policies,” Walden said. “As we enter another fire season, people’s lives, safety, and property are at risk. This has to change. That’s why I’ve introduced a plan to allow more management on public lands in the area to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. I’m glad the plan is already moving forward in the House. It’s just common sense.”

Under Walden’s Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act, H.R. 5132, the boundaries of the WSA would be altered to allow fire prevention efforts on the adjacent private property.

George Mitchener, the president of the board of directors of Crooked River Ranch, said that the community has the driest climate in Oregon and faces a constant threat of wildfire.

“The current Deschutes Wilderness Study Area boundary borders approximately 250 properties on the west boundary of the ranch,” Mitchener said. “With only one exit on and off the Ranch our concerns in the face of a catastrophic fire event are real. This bill would move that WSA boundary back to the natural canyon rim and allow our firefighters an opportunity to plan for mitigation in advance and realistically fight the fire before it’s in our backyards and spreading to the rest of the ranch.”

Walden met with Crooked River Ranch community leaders in January to learn how changes in federal land management policies could help prevent wildfires in the region.

“I want to thank Greg Walden for his efforts to save lives and property in central Oregon,” Richard Hoffmann, Crooked River Ranch fire chief, said “This legislation will move the boundary away from private properties and allow us to work with the Bureau of Land Management to begin the process of fuels mitigation to further improve defensible space for our community of over 2,600 properties. The lack of fuel mitigation has created a dangerous environment for tactical firefighting and remains one of our highest threats to Crooked River Ranch. Until proper mitigation is performed, it is unlikely we would place firefighters in such a volatile atmosphere. Our first line of defense today is the property boundaries of our home owners.”

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