Guest Column: Let's not lose the Skyline Forest

Guest Columnist, Linda English, writes for The Bulletin about the Skyline Forest closure and getting involved, before we lose access to this area forever.
By Linda English
The Bulletin

 

Skyline Forest is the place I ride my bike for a quick escape, the gravel between Bend and Sisters, the long way to ride to Tumalo Falls, the scenic way to ride to Tumalo Reservoir, and an easier climb to go see vast views of Black Butte. I’ve run across badgers, mule deer, elk and even a bobcat. One of the main gravel roads was put in by the railroads years ago, which means the grades are gentle, making it a common favorite among cyclists.

Though it may come as a shock to many, Skyline Forest isn’t public land; these 33,000 acres (about 50 square miles) are owned by an international company that is currently selling the property. We don’t know who might buy it next or what they’ll do with it.

Recently, the current owner closed Skyline Forest to all public access due to increased industrial fire precaution levels in Deschutes National Forest. And it is unclear when the closure will be lifted. This follows the U.S. Forest Service’s recent closure of the popular Forest Road 4606 that cuts through the property, due to an ongoing access dispute with neighbors.

Since 2010, large wildfires have burned over 10,000 acres of Skyline Forest. As this forest borders both Bend and Sisters, wildfire safety is top of mind. Significant restoration and maintenance work needs to be a priority to make this area safer, especially in the face of climate change.

I understand why this private company wants to close the forest: they want to protect their primary asset: timber. We’ve seen this same action taken by private landowners throughout the West to mitigate wildfire risks. Just recently I was cycling along the coast and had to purchase access from a private timber company in order to ride a route I wanted to do. (And now that the fire danger has increased, they have shut the roads that I was riding on.)

I see this closure as a great reminder that now is the time to get involved, before we lose access to this area forever. If this property could be purchased from the current owner for a fair price and be managed for the public good, Skyline Forest could continue to offer amazing outdoor opportunities to our community, and also play a critical role in improving wildfire safety for Bend and Sisters. As Central Oregon has exploded in population, we need to preserve our open spaces.

Solving these issues isn’t easy. It’s going to take community support, additional resources, and leadership from our elected officials to meaningfully tackle these issues and create a safer, more certain future for this place and how we access it. I urge anyone who cares about Skyline’s future to get involved with local grassroots efforts to save this place.

Specifically, donate, volunteer or at least follow Central Oregon LandWatch and Deschutes Land Trust, the local organizations that are working to protect this area. And be sure to take action at Save Skyline Forest by signing the community letter urging our local leaders to help find solutions that protect Skyline and address its public access and wildfire issues. (Go to https://saveskylineforest.centraloregonlandwatch.org/jointhemovement.)

With everyone getting involved, I hope that we find a solution that protects Skyline Forest, provides public access and improves wildfire safety in this forest for current and future generations of cyclists and everyone who loves this place.