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After FS says summer’s China Hat Road project won’t require homeless camps’ removal, Bentz presses for answers, eviction

Long-term homeless camps on Forest Service land south of Bend have caused a variety of issues and challenges
KTVZ file
Long-term homeless camps on Forest Service land south of Bend have caused a variety of issues and challenges

Future years' prescribed burns, vegetation removal likely will require relocation

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The U.S. Forest Service said last week it won't have to remove homeless camps in the China Hat Road area south of Bend for this summer's paving and reconstruction of the road, though later fuels reduction and prescribed burn projects likely will require some relocation.

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ore., told KBND he met recently with homeowners in the China Hat area and said he wants to evict those camps, looking for alternative solutions and "some sort of management arrangement with the Forest Service."

"It's not legal, they shouldn't be there, and the question is: Who are we going to get to enforce the law?"

Here's the full text of a news release issued last Tuesday evening by Kaitlyn Webb, public affairs and partnerships staff officer for the Deschutes National Forest:

The Deschutes National Forest (DNF) plans to reconstruct approximately 3.5 miles of Forest Service Road (FSR) 18 this year.  

Depending on weather conditions, work may begin as soon as June and is expected to conclude by October. Both lanes of traffic will be closed while work is being done between the Forest boundary and FSR 1810 (Bessie Butte Road) to provide for public safety. While work is ongoing, areas on both sides of FSR 18 will be inaccessible to vehicle traffic. 

The condition of FSR 18 is deteriorating, and reconstruction will improve driving safety. FSR 18 is also a high-use road which provides primary access to public lands for recreation, resource management and wildfire response. Additionally, FSR 18 is the primary access road and timber haul route for thinning, mowing and mastication and prescribed burning operations within the 25,804-acre Cabin Butte Vegetation Management Project south of Bend. 

The DNF is aware of areas of existing encampments where vehicle access from FSR 18 will be closed off during construction. Recent media reports have stated this construction effort will require that homeless and houseless encampments in the area be removed. At this time, the only anticipated action is a closure of FSR 18. Removal of camps is not expected to be needed to complete this work. Forest Service staff, along with partners, will work to notify these camps well in advance of the construction so that individuals in those camps can take proper measures to avoid being cut off once the work commences.  

As the implementation of mechanical fuels reduction and prescribed fire continues in the Cabin Butte Project area, camps will likely need to be relocated to allow for that work to occur over the next several years. The DNF will work with partners and communicate the timing and location of that work so that the fuels reduction work can be fully completed in the area.

The Forest recognizes the impacts that homeless and houseless encampments have on forest visitors and those who live near the DNF boundary. Houselessness in our National Forests is not an isolated problem but part of a broader societal issue that spans across city, county, state and federal jurisdictions. It requires a united, community-focused approach, recognizing that no single entity can address this challenge in isolation.  

“DNF staff remain focused on meeting our natural resource conservation mission,” said Forest Supervisor Holly Jewkes. “We remain committed to working within the legal authorities provided to our employees to enforce our laws, regulations and policies, while respecting the human dignity of those individuals who are experiencing homelessness and houselessness.”  

The Forest will continue to provide updates on the road reconstruction and Cabin Butte projects as the implementation timelines are finalized.


Earlier in the week, Webb said while details are still being worked out, “a very early head’s up” was given recently to adjacent community members.

The work on China Hat Road (Forest Service Road 18) is planned as part of the Cabin Butte Vegetation Management Project, a multi-year, nearly 26,000-acre forest restoration effort on the Bend -Ford Rock Ranger District, adjacent to provide lands. About 11,500 acres are within the wildland-urban interface, as defined by the Greater Bend Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

The Forest Service says, “Forest restoration is needed to move the Cabin Butte project area towards historic conditions to provide resilience to the landscape, reintroduce fire as a natural process with more frequent, lower intensity burns and reduce the hazardous fuels tin crease public and firefighter safety.”

The road “is paved, but there’s some pretty hefty potholes,” Webb said, and the road needs to be reconstructed and paved for the planned forest work, as it’s a “main haul route for any timber we’re bringing out,” as well as access for prescribed fire operations.

“That is a main access route for resources management for that part of the forest and recreating south of Bend,” Webb said. It’s also critical ingress/egress for any fires we have in the area.”

Numerous reported crimes, vehicle and other fires and other issues among the homeless residents off China Hat Road have upset many neighbors, some to the point of planning to move away, amid repeated pleas and calls for the Forest Service and other local officials to better deal with the dangerous problem.

Webb said the Forest Service will be “working with our city, county and state partners collaboratively, as we have been" on planning for future activities involving homeless campers in the forest. More information will be released to the public when the repaving and other work approaches, Webb said: “We’re just doing early communication.”

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Barney Lerten


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