News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Pilot project drives wreckage from forest

The initial test of community responsiveness to a growing problem in Sisters’ forest resulted in the removal of the remains of an RV that burned to the ground in 2020. The carcass was located a few hundred yards from North Pine Street and close to popular hiking trails.

The area, adjacent to the ClearPine subdivision of 97 houses, has long been home to dozens of seasonal dwellers who camp in a myriad of temporary dwellings, from single-person tents to cars to RVs. This particular vehicle, when intact, was nearly 30 feet in length.

The project was a tripartite action of a private citizen, a nonprofit, and the Forest Service.

Volunteers, including Mandy Seeley of the Sisters Homeless Networking group, have chipped away at the remains taking away what they could and cleaning up the debris left by the total destruction. All that was left was the chassis and axles — about 1,000 pounds of charred and rusting steel, both an eyesore and a hazard, given its sharp edges.

The Forest Service has long been frustrated by the extensive process and lack of funding to remove abandoned vehicles. “Abandoned” is a tricky legal morass. Abandonment doesn’t necessarily mean the owner has given up ownership. It takes months of steps, and the ruling of a federal magistrate to obtain final permission to tow away the vehicle.

Many, like the one cited above, cannot be easily hitched up and towed. A number lack the wheels or tires. Some are infested by a variety of animal inhabitants. All the while, hikers and vacation campers, are offended by the sight and complain regularly to the Forest Service.

Then there is the issue of where to tow it as the vehicles generally have little to no salvage value.

Jeremy Fields of the Sisters Ranger District, like many of his teammates, wears several hats. Fields is primarily responsible for the sale of forest products such as pinecones and mushrooms. His job takes him to all corners of the Forest and inevitably he meets forest dwellers, those in a temporary economic rough spot, usually employed, those who simply choose to live off the grid and the occasional severely addicted or suffering mental disorders with nowhere else but the woods to shelter.

And like his fellow employees he is occasionally pressed into clean-up actions or other efforts to minimize the houseless population in the public lands under their management. None of these efforts are in the stated mission of the Forest Service, yet illegal camping gets a lot of their attention.

Fields and his boss, District Ranger Ian Reid, are frequently in communication with townspeople as they grapple with the concerns of citizens and the rights of the houseless. One such citizen would be known to virtually everybody in Sisters, Fields told The Nugget.

In conversation, the citizen, who insists on anonymity, asked Fields what it would take to get the carcass out of the woods. Fields consulted with David Fox, the Deschutes County behavioral health professional assigned to help two days a week with the homeless crisis in Sisters. That led to Fields reaching out to High Desert Peace Kitchen, a new player in the battle to ease the houseless population.

The Peace Kitchen, located in Bend, is a mutual aid nonprofit working in solidarity with the unhoused population here in Central Oregon. They started as a weekly pop-up street kitchen, but thanks to the generosity of others in the mutual aid community, they’ve been able to grow into more. They now also drive a water truck that delivers essential water to those who need it. They also provide hot showers with a new (for them) shower truck, and soon hope to be providing regular trash-collection services.

Their all-volunteer services include at least weekly water distribution into the forests surrounding Sisters. The truck holds 250 gallons of fresh, clean water, roughly 1.5 gallons each for the known number of forest dwellers.

Fields approached the Peace Kitchen group to just kick around ideas, and within days a plan was hatched. The cost of getting a rig and winches to the site and carting it away was estimated to be $360, an amount the anonymous citizen wrote a check to cover.

Chris Nelson and Mike Sachter, both who live in Sisters and both regular volunteers for Peace Kitchen, met Fields and The Nugget last week and with a lot of muscle and ingenuity hoisted the beast onto the trailer. The trailer’s fenders had to be detached to accommodate the hulk which will be taken to Schnitzer Steel in Bend, a large scrap metal buyer and processor.

Fields sees this as proof that the solution to a community problem is community partnership. He believes he can replicate the feat and turn some of the complaining into appreciation.


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