December 31, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - What's the purpose of wetland plan?

January 3, 2011
December 31, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - What's the purpose of wetland plan?

What’s the purpose of wetland plan?

Published: December 31. 2010 4:00AM PST

Despite a slew of complaints about the idea, the U.S. Forest Service continues to plan to re-create a wetland on the Deschutes River south of Bend. The most recent questions about the project come from the region’s irrigators, who rely on the river to water their crops. Yet even if those concerns are addressed, one still has to ask about the validity of the whole idea.

The land in question, known as Ryan Ranch Meadow, lies along the Deschutes between Benham and Dillon falls. It was a wetland once, but a dike erected about 90 years ago dried the land and created the meadow now there. It is among the forest’s most popular trail areas and is home to elk, among other species.

The Forest Service, that perennially financially strapped federal agency, hopes to replace what’s there now with what was there before, only better.

It wants to remove the dike, build a boardwalk across what it believes will the soggiest part of the area, and put up interpretive kiosks for those who continue to visit.

Some object because they worry the elk will discover they liked the area dry. Irrigators are concerned that allowing the river to return to its original channel will change water flows downstream, reducing the amount of water they have for crops. They believe the Forest Service must obtain water rights to do what it wishes at Ryan Meadows, though that hasn’t been settled yet.

Finally, those who use the area are concerned about the likelihood that a wetland will become a fertile breeding ground for mosquitoes, which already pose a problem there.

The Forest Service doesn’t discount their concern; instead, one official told a Bulletin reporter earlier this year that the project will provide good habitat for the biting bugs that can make visiting the area uncomfortable.

In the end, one has to ask just why the Forest Service seems so intent on its plans for Ryan Ranch Meadow. Going back to a nature that’s been absent for nearly a century simply doesn’t make sense, particularly when the area in question is so popular in its current form.

The agency surely has other spots in need of restoration, places where the land has been misused and where restoration really would be an improvement.

Those who now enjoy Ryan Ranch Meadow, meanwhile, are right to worry about its future.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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