Photo: Mike Putnam.

Skyline Forest Update

May 07, 2021 by Jana Hemphill
Founding director Brad Chalfant provides an update on Skyline Forest.

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By Brad Chalfant

As longtime Land Trust supporters are well aware, we’ve worked for nearly 20 years to permanently protect Skyline Forest, the 33,000-acre private timberland west of Bend and southwest of Sisters. Those efforts produced multiple pieces of state legislation to support a conservation transaction, which staved off development during the last real estate boom. While Skyline Forest isn’t yet permanently protected, the Land Trust continues to quietly explore opportunities for transactions to permanently protect this important forest.  

For those not familiar with Skyline Forest, this 50 square mile swath of private timberland constitutes the green foothills below the Three Sisters mountains. Aside from being an essential part of our most iconic scenic view, Skyline Forest serves as a key winter range and migration corridor for deer and elk herds. Thanks to the generous tradition of local timber companies allowing broad public access, Skyline Forest is heavily used by local equestrians, trail runners, and cyclists (gravel and mountain bikers). Unfortunately, that generous public access has historically led Central Oregonians to mistakenly believe that the forest was actually public land (aka National Forest) and would never be threatened with development. Having awakened the community to those threats back in 2004, the Land Trust witnessed a strong, determined, and bi-partisan commitment from the community and community leaders to protect the forest.

Lately, however, that broad and generous public access which many have come to take for granted, has come under threat. This stems from thoughtless and illegal activities by some members of the public, causing the owner of Skyline Forest (Shanda Assets Management, LLC) and a neighboring property owner to gate the old Brooks Scanlon Haul Road (Road 4606), which serves as the primary access to Skyline Forest from the Bend area. In recent years, Shanda Assets Management has endured a significant increase in vandalism, along with illegal dumping, campfires, and off-road motorized use, while Shanda’s neighbor has experienced a big increase in motorized traffic along a section of the Haul Road crossing his land and which he believes to be private and within his rights to gate.  

Not surprisingly, putting gates on the historic Brooks Scanlon Haul Road triggered a strong reaction from many local folks accustomed to using the road for access to Skyline Forest and adjacent public lands, generating numerous phone calls to the Deschutes County Commission and the Deschutes National Forest. The Land Trust also fielded calls from many questioning whether the gates represent the start of renewed efforts to develop Skyline Forest. While it’s still unclear how the agencies will resolve the access issues, our discussions with Shanda suggest they are not currently seeking to develop the forest. It’s also worth noting that Shanda has long relied on thoughtful recreationists to provide additional “eyes and ears” to supplement their limited management staffing and Shanda tells us they remain committed to a thoughtful level of public access (including guided Land Trust tours).   

In the meantime, the Land Trust and our partners will continue to explore conservation opportunities with Shanda. Suffice it to say, the Land Trust is grateful for the generous community support that has enabled the Land Trust to stay focused on permanently protecting this large, irreplaceable forest for nearly 20 years. Stay tuned...