A proposal to create a new 18,000-acre wilderness along Whychus Creek and the middle Deschutes River near Crooked River Ranch has drawn the formal opposition of a majority of property owners in the rural development.
The Crooked River Ranch homeowners association announced this week that roughly 66 percent of residents opposed the plan in a recent non-binding vote. The homeowner’s association said residents are concerned about how a wilderness designation would impact the ability of public land managers to fight wildfire. A recent wildfire that broke out inside that wilderness area and grew to more than 1,500 acres while advancing toward homes and private property, underscored those concerns, the association said in a news release issued Wednesday evening.
“Many Ranch residents watched from their homes the fire's rapid progress into the night and its reawakening two days later. We have heard the arguments from both sides about limits on fighting fires in designated wilderness areas. The bottom line is, we are concerned that the timely and robust effort that checked the advance of this threat to Ranch homes and property would not be allowed in a designated Wilderness area,” the release stated.
The concept of an Alder Springs wilderness area has been around for sometime; the area in question has already been designated as a Wilderness Study Area by the Bureau of Land Management because of its unique characteristics, including ancient juniper stands, slot canyons, pictographs and the area’s unique geology. The ongoing effort to re-establish native fish populations in the upper basin, including salmon and steelhead has added fuel to the discussion about the need for long-term protections of the area, which is seen as a potential stronghold for the fish. This past summer, the Oregon Natural Desert Association unveiled its initial proposal for the wilderness area, which comprises roughly 18,000 acres around the intersection of Whychus Creek and the Middle Deschutes River above Lake Billy Chinook on west boundary of the ranch.
Formally designating the Alder Springs area as wilderness would require a vote of Congress. While ONDA has said that its staff has been in contact with members of the Oregon delegation, no bill has been introduced.
Photo: Brian Ouimette/ONDA