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Walden seeks answers on Forest Service car commercial mishap

March 12, 2012

Greg Walden presses Forest Service for solutions on car commercial flap
– Walden: Forest Service needs to understand that central Oregon is open for business;
Greg Walden Press Release

Following up on the missed opportunity to secure a car commercial filming in the Deschutes National Forest, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has asked U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell how he plans to ensure that a similar economy opportunity is not missed again.

“The U.S. Forest Service needs to understand that central Oregon is open for business,” Rep. Walden wrote. “The Forest Service should have taken a cue from Oregonians’ famous attitude ‘how can we make this happen?’ attitude. Instead, the justifications for blocking the commercial shifted course faster than a snowboarder carving up Mt. Bachelor. One day, the permit wasn’t granted because officials didn’t want to set a precedent in that area of the forest. The next day, when contacted by media, the reason was a nebulous catch-all of ‘public safety.’”

The car commercial flap will feature in Rep. Walden’s remarks today to the annual luncheon of Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO). The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Riverhouse.

“The brightest days for central Oregon’s economy remain in the future, not the past. But to get there, we can’t afford for the bureaucracies that manage such a dominant swath of our land base to turn away gift-wrapped economic opportunities. Our natural wonders should be a boon that attracts outside investment, not an excuse to keep it away,” Rep. Walden wrote.

“No one in central Oregon would say that a one-time $155,000 injection is a game changer for an economy struggling with double digit unemployment. Far from it. But every penny counts. And many local small business owners and job creators welcome this kind of outside-the-box economic thinking. Perhaps it could have even led to more projects like it,” Rep. Walden wrote.

Rep. Walden also referenced in his letter input from constituents on the issue.

One constituent wrote: “Just wanted you…to know that even though we are at the south end of the county and would not have benefited to a huge degree from this commercial endeavor, it angers me that this economic boost was lost to our region at all. We all work together, too bad the federal government is not on board as well.”

The full text of Rep. Walden’s letter to Chief Tidwell is below.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Honorable Tom Tidwell
Chief, United States Forest Service
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250

Dear Chief Tidwell:

The U.S. Forest Service needs to understand that central Oregon is open for business.

In January, a major car company identified a portion of the Deschutes National Forest as a desirable location to film their next car commercial. They selected a stretch of road already closed for the winter. To minimize impacts on recreationists, they decided to film on a weekday morning. Cognizant of the economic shot-in-the-arm that the commercial would provide to the community, members of the Oregon State Snowmobile Association agreed to groom the snow before the filming. The county quickly signed off on necessary permits. Local hoteliers and small businesses readied for the valuable mid-week business that the more than 50 out-of-town workers would bring to the city.

Unfortunately, the shoot never happened. The only thing that squelched an estimated $155,000 injection to the local economy—on a single Wednesday in the middle of the winter—was bureaucratic foot-dragging by the U.S. Forest Service that drove the company to film their commercial elsewhere.

The Forest Service should have taken a cue from Oregonians’ famous attitude “how can we make this happen?” attitude. Instead, the justifications for blocking the commercial shifted course faster than a snowboarder carving up Mt. Bachelor. One day, the permit wasn’t granted because officials didn’t want to set a precedent in that area of the forest. The next day, when contacted by media, the reason was a nebulous catch-all of “public safety.”

So it is clear, here is the precedent that central Oregonians want on public lands: We’re open for business. The brightest days for central Oregon’s economy remain in the future, not the past. But to get there, we can’t afford for the bureaucracies that manage such a dominant swath of our land base to turn away gift-wrapped economic opportunities. Our natural wonders should be a boon that attracts outside investment, not an excuse to keep it away.

As for concerns about safety, I can’t help but recall the fine print that appears on so many car commercials: “Professional driver on a closed course.” I’m confident the same would have applied in this case as well.

When the clock finally ran out on the opportunity to film in central Oregon, the car company threw up its hands and went somewhere else—Mammoth, California to be exact—where they were welcomed with open arms. Just last week, the same promotion company did a shoot for another car company in Livingston, Montana, on BLM land.

No one in central Oregon would say that a one-time $155,000 injection is a game changer for an economy struggling with double digit unemployment. Far from it. But every penny counts. And many local small business owners and job creators welcome this kind of outside-the-box economic thinking. Perhaps it could have even led to more projects like it.

Compounding local frustration is that this is not the first commonsense initiative blocked in the Deschutes National Forest by a refusal to grant a benign permit request. Last summer, a California teen visiting his father for the summer noticed high levels of litter along his favorite Deschutes National Forest hiking trails. He organized a local clean-up effort and recruited volunteers to help make the forest more beautiful. According to a local news report, his application for a waiver and plans to clean up the land were denied by the Forest Service over concerns of—you guessed it—public safety. All the Good Samaritans had signed injury waivers, but officials wanted more planning time and safety training for the volunteers. They suggested the teen come back and try again next summer.

This is why people lose faith in their government.

Don’t take it just from me. When I told constituents about the car commercial flap in one of my regular e-newsletters, I received an unusual number of unsolicited responses. I’ve pasted some below so you can get a feel for just how upset local citizens are right now. I have also attached an editorial from the regional newspaper, The Bulletin.

I would appreciate a response that outlines the steps you will take to ensure that these kinds of easy, slam dunk economic opportunities are not missed in the future. I look forward to your reply.

Best regards,
Greg Walden
U.S. Representative
Oregon’s Second District

Responses from Oregonians regarding the car commercial flap:

• “Just wanted you…to know that even though we are at the south end of the county and would not have benefited to a huge degree from this commercial endeavor, it angers me that this economic boost was lost to our region at all. We all work together, too bad the federal government is not on board as well.”

• “Our Deschutes National Forest is seriously off course. I was pleased to see you are looking into the permit fiasco for the car commercial. I was dismayed to see that they want to spend $600,000 to pave the parking lot at the Phil’s trailhead. This is a parking area for mountain bikers. They go there to ride on dirt. Mountain bikers can park on gravel just fine.”

• “The Forestry people have been known for the kind of actions, or non-actions you referred to for a good many years.”

• “You wrote “I’ll be working with the Forest Service going forward…” I am thrilled you will be doing so given the infuriating incident with Mercedes. Last summer you may have missed another incident involving the Forest Service. A teen-age boy from California was visiting his grandparents in Bend and started to clean up trash in the forest. When he tried to organize a larger group to do additional trash clean up, the Forest Service denied him a permit due to “safety reasons”. This sounds like bureaucratic runaround, and it is just crazy! Government idiocy makes me want to scream.”

• “Since the forest service was established to support the logging industry and the logging industry has died so should the forest service. A good cost cutting measure by the federal government.”

• “Is there anyone else out there as angry as I am about the loss of the Mercedes commercial to California?!?!?!? We are out here busting our ****** to bring people to our area to support our economy and they can’t get past the bureaucracy of a federal agency that is supposed to work for our interests. I cannot imagine what they thought was going to happen during this filming that would have caused such concern.”

• “You probably weren’t notified until the 11th hour because they just simply did not want anything that would bring $$$$$ to Central Oregon. Or maybe they didn’t want Mercedes to see the total devastation that has incurred in our forests due to their lack of ‘management,’ and I use that term loosely!!!”

  
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Discuss this article

Samuel Johnson March 12, 2012

That’s nuts. The Forest Service is not in the business of shilling for right wing corporate entities. Corporations may go film their quasi-legal advertizing on their own property, they have zero business allowing right wing corporate scumbags to shit on our public lands.

cassie giddings March 12, 2012

I feel the Forest Service made the Right decision by putting “Safety First in a high use area over a commercial interest that would be better suited for summer time activity.

Snowmobiles, skiers, snowshoers all use the area that was requested for the car commercial.

So who interests are being served? Those who use the area and then we can consider the commercial interests needs based on where and when.

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