Steps being taken to increase forest safety


Last updated 4/27/2022 at Noon

The increase of forest dwellers has brought an increase in citizen concerns about forest safety, especially with respect to wildfire. Citizens are a big part of the solution. None more typify this than Dave and Sharon Skidmore, who relocated to Sisters from Alaska two years ago and live on North Forest Edge Drive.

Their home backs up to Deschutes National Forest, less than 20 yards’ distance. They are part of a small group of volunteers like Scott Bowler who regularly visit the forest, making contact with forest dwellers. They make their acquaintances as they are picking up trash and geo-tagging with phone software and photographing campers who have exceeded their 14-day permissible stay or who have a dangerous or unsafe environment.

The trio, and others who pitch in, have encountered unattended tethered dogs, improper campfires, lots of trash, and frequent unsanitary conditions.

Bowler, who more or less knows the majority of the forest dwellers east and south of Sisters, is aware when something doesn’t feel right.

Two weeks ago, a delivery van converted to a temporary home was parked on Forest Service Road 100 near the popular Indian Ford tie connector trail. Bowler knew the van even as it changed locations often during its roughly two-month stay in the woods of Sisters. Indeed, the occupant had died in the van from natural causes.

That drew a number of law enforcement vehicles to the scene and caused neighbors to assume it was an arrest.

Dave and Sharon Skidmore, whose property has a wire fence on the forest side, are investing in a wood fence to obscure the sight of more and more campers at their back door. Sharon finds herself less inclined to approach certain campsites, her instincts sensing more risk. Some of her neighbors will only go into the woods with their dog or another person, not alone. One neighbor now carries pepper spray for fear of an unwanted encounter.

Sharon asks: “How come law-abiding citizens can get a ticket for not having a proper forest pass to hike in the woods, but people can live in the woods for months and make a complete mess and nothing happens?”

“This is not a good look for Sisters,” said Natalie Enders, who no longer runs on forest trails.

“It can feel a little creepy out there at times,” she added.

John Soules was positioned as the LEO (law enforcement officer) for the Sisters District Ranger Station in early 2020. He is one of four armed officers with arrest and removal authority for the entire Forest. He was moved to acting captain for the team, giving him less time in Sisters, but is returning to patrol duty based in the local office.

He knows the Sisters woods well and has frequent contact with long-term campers.

May 4 is a day when inmates from the Deschutes County jail will work in the forest to clean up the most offensive sites. During COVID, the community justice program was put on hold, and this is the first work project in almost two years. Personnel from DCSO Sisters and Sisters Ranger Station will pitch in to maximize the result. Volunteers from the community can lend a hand although they will be in different locations than the inmates, according to District Ranger Ian Reid.

Lt. Chad Davis, who heads the Sisters sheriff’s office reports an additional intervention action being taken to help minimize risk and improve outreach to forest dwellers.

Deschutes County received more than $1 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds to support homeless outreach services.

La Pine and Sisters will share David Fox, a full-time County employee, who will work directly with homeless primarily in issues of mental health. The majority of the houseless in Sisters live in the forest and a number are known to have mental disorders.

Davis and Reid are optimistic that the addition will help reduce concerns for wildfire or other safety issues in the forest.

The woods around town, particularly those near North Pine Street and the ClearPine subdivision, are no strangers to fire. A report prepared for The Nugget by Captain Jeremy Ast of Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District shows 17 fires since October of 2020 to which they responded on Forest Service property near Sisters Country homes.

Seven were in response to burning near Rail Way and Highway 20 or Forest Road 100 (the Pine Street spur). Five were attributable to the same person. Ast’s list included an RV that burned to the ground close to North Pine Street.

Severe drought is here, and, apparently, a larger number of forest dwellers. Sharon Skidmore worries that as enforcement steps up in Bend, where DCSO has responded to 18 fire-related incidents in the last year in China Hat, an area in Deschutes National Forest notorious for illegal camping, that more “kicked out of Bend” will come to Sisters.

Officials and citizens are making forest safety a higher priority, and residents are encouraged to report concerns to Reid’s or Davis’ office.


Reader Comments(0)


Our Family of Publications Includes:

Https:// Data/dfault/images/masthead 260x100
Sisters Oregon Guide
Spirit Of Central Oregon
Spirit Youtube
Nugget Youtube

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2024