Lawmaker details historic changes in Deschutes County

County re-shaped by tourism, environmental restrictions and sinking timber industry
By Gene Whisnant,
State Representative

Deschutes County has beautiful and plentiful natural resources which are unmatched by most counties in the US.   Our snow covered mountains, forests, and pristine streams provide recreational opportunities which all enjoy and want to protect.

Deschutes County was established by the early settlers who harvested our forest timber for the Bend mills.   The Brooks-Scanlon mills on the banks of the Deschutes River were two of the worlds largest sawmills.  At their peak capacity, the mills employed more that 4,000 workers producing more than 500 million feet of lumber a year.  Both mills were closed by 1983.  The mill sites are now occupied by “The Old Mill District” consisting of single-family homes and townhouses as well as shops, restaurants, entertainment and offices.  This successful and environmental friendly development reflects Deschutes County’s economic shift from timber industries to service and tourism industries.

Deschutes County still has its natural resources but the primary use has shifted.  Deschutes County has experience rapid population growth and a successful tourism industry growth due to our natural resources.  Destination resorts are part of the growth in the tourism industry.  Studies confirm the resorts contribute significant tax revenue to provide county and state services.  Although resorts are planned to be environmental friendly, future resort developments remain a concern of the environmental community.

When I moved to Sunriver in 1993, you were not allowed to pull weeds or cut anything.  Also, our homes had wood-shingle roofs.  To reduce the danger of wildfires, we started noxious weeds eradication and ladder fuel reduction programs.   Now, we do not allow new or replacement wood shingle roofs.  Other Deschutes County communities are adopting similar programs with the help of government grants.  These actions helped reduce the danger of forest land and development interface wildfires.  However, we can further reduce the danger of wildfires by treating more of our US forests.

The US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management control over 75 % of Deschutes County’s land/natural resources.   Recently, the US Forest Service increased treatment of our forest land to prevent devastating forest fires.   A recent “Bend Bulletin” article reported that the timber harvested in Deschutes County increased between 2007 and 2008.  Although 28.9 million board feet was cut in Deschutes County in 2008; in 1995 and 1997 over 50 million board feet were cut.  Joe Stutler, Deschutes County Forester, stated in the article cutting trees helps employment and provides funds for our schools and roads.  Thus, the reduction from 500 million board feet to 28.9 million per year indicates the increased economic potential of Deschutes County’s forest.

Recently, resorts planned for Deschutes County have failed due to the lack of investment funds.  In Oregon’s current economic recession, we need to focus new efforts on using our forests which are renewable resources for our economy to provide jobs.  In Deschutes County, we hope to use our forest products for biomass energy plants and biomass pellets.  Also, we are trying to produce geo-thermal energy in the Paulina Mountain area.

My hope is we find agreement to shift again and increase use of our renewable forests for the enjoyment of all and to produce jobs and state revenue for citizen services and needs.

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