News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Abandoned vehicles plague Sisters

Concerned citizens routinely notify the Sisters Ranger District of abandoned vehicles in the woods around town. Just as routinely, the Forest Service begins the somewhat arduous task of removing them.

In 2023 there were 25 cases in all, including a trailer at the rodeo grounds, a Ford Ranger on Forest Road 15, a motorhome near the high school, three RV trailers at 970/4606, five vehicles in all at Eagle Rock Road, two burned out RVs on Road 100 (the spur road), and the list goes on. There was even a boat at Fourmile Butte.

Local resident, Dave Skidmore told The Nugget, "The apparent acceptability of using our local National Forest as a vehicular disposal must have gotten out as there are three more that have rapidly appeared in the last few months. One closer to town on 1512, another just off of 15 and the last on the road approaching Fourmile Butte."

According to District Ranger Ian Reid the agency knows of five vehicles presently - four cars and one motorcycle - still to be removed. There are also dozens of occupied vehicles on the District's land, many of which are not drivable nor easily moved.

Reid acknowledges the public's frustration and asks for understanding. He also asks that Forest recreationalists continue to report any vehicles in apparent violation to the District.

"Without making excuses, I will say that for every abandoned vehicle or trailer you see, several others have been removed from the Sisters Ranger District using creative methods from Jeremy [Fields, special forest products officer], our law enforcement officers, and our other forest protection officers," Reid said.

To the trail user it seems simple when they come across a burned out or stripped camper, truck or car: The Forest Service just needs to call the tow truck and haul it away. It's not as simple as that, according to officials. Legally, a vehicle may still be somebody's property. And they just can't go around willy-nilly hauling off your property.

The process can take months and must adhere to strict rules and regulations established by Federal law. A good-faith effort must be made to locate the owner. Then there is the question of the vehicle's worth. If it has salvage value greater than $500, the process is different than if its value is under $500.

Might it have scrap or salvage value? Locating the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and thus its registered owner can be difficult, such as in a completely charred wreck. Is there personal property in the vehicle indicating that it may not be abandoned and the owner is temporarily away from the vehicle?

Once approved it's still not that simple, if, for example, the vehicle is burned and cannot be towed safely, or is in an area not easily accessible for a standard tow.

Recovery of costs which can run as high as $2,000 are rare as those who abandon vehicles, even if found, seldom have the resources to make restitution.

Community groups have led the effort in gathering thousands of pounds of trash in the forest. Sisters Community Leadership Initiative, one such group, scooped up around 200 cubic yards (10 dump truck loads) of bagged trash from homeless campers trying to keep their campsites clean and sanitary.

The Sisters Ranger District organized three community clean up days in 2023 including one with volunteers from the Gambler 500 (See The Nugget, October 24, 2023). In all, these efforts rounded up another 180 cubic yards of debris and litter.

In addition, 'hotspot' cleanups (single locations) yielded another 40 cubic yards.


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