As a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, I thought I had seen a lot in my career: fires, floods, furloughs, drug cartels, timber thefts, daring rescues and tragic fatalities. But there was no playbook preparing me for the uncertainty of the last several months. This global pandemic has challenged Forest Service employees just as it has tested all of you. At times two of our agency core values — service and safety — felt at loggerheads with each other.

Managing an organization mindful of the needs and safety of our employees and the public while being responsive to the stewardship of over 300,000 acres of your public land on the Sisters Ranger District has redefined leading through change and taken some very difficult decisions. Some of these decisions were postponing or canceling planned work to improve national forest lands and provide economic opportunities. Among these were deferring a large reforestation contract, suspending our spring prescribed burning program, postponing our wilderness limited-entry project, closing our developed recreation sites and ranger station to the public, delaying some of our important aquatic restoration projects, pausing our tremendous volunteer program, and canceling our spring public open house.

While we deferred some of our projects, most of our employees teleworked over the last couple months and were busier than ever. Through detailed risk assessments and constant communication with our partners we continued some of high-priority work planned for 2020. Our firefighters are trained and prepared for another active fire season and have already responded to several wildfires in Sisters Country this spring.

We signed a decision to authorize powerline clearing and pole replacement along 13 miles of utility right-of-way between Sisters and Camp Sherman and those crews are working to improve safety and operations along their powerline corridor. We recently awarded a contract to remove diseased and dying trees around Suttle Lake. With this work in mind, please be aware of logging truck and equipment traffic and local trail closures in the Suttle, Scout, and Dark Lake areas over the spring and summer.

We awarded a contract to construct a new trailhead for the Peterson Ridge Trail system and a local contractor is making excellent progress. Understanding the public’s need to plan ahead for the following winter, we temporarily waived permit requirements on personal use firewood allowing up to four cords free per household. In addition, we paused permits and offered free personal use mushroom collection and botanical transplants.

We continue forward on the pending land sale of the Sisters Ranger Station administrative site, while retaining 12 acres for a new ranger station.

Finally, we hired three new leaders to the district: Haley Anderson will serve as the vegetation management staff and lead silviculturist; Sara Baughman will manage the recreation and wilderness programs; and Lisa Paddock will oversee the administrative and visitor services department. Also, John Soules was tapped to replace Fred Perl as Law Enforcement Officer stationed in Sisters.

What’s next as we work closely with the State of Oregon and other jurisdictions to find some semblance of normalcy? We hope to open many day-use developed sites such as trailheads, picnic areas, boat ramps, and the 16 Road snow gate prior to Memorial Day weekend, however services will be unavailable at many sites so please come prepared. We anticipate some of our campgrounds to open by early June. We know closed campgrounds have contributed to increased dispersed camping pressure right now and ask that campers please follow leave no trace principles, pack out their trash, and properly bury human waste.

Until we open the ranger station again to the public, you can call 541-549-7700 during weekday business hours and be forwarded to one of our teleworking employees that can answer your questions. Or email us at mailroom_r6_central_oregon@usda.gov. When we do reopen, we will be focusing on employee and public safety in our front office environment.

Thank you in advance for your patience and continued support in the weeks and months to come and we can’t wait to have you back enjoying the bounty of the Sisters Ranger District!