▶️ Bentz seeks actual costs of wolf reintroduction on Oregon cattle ranchers

There have been nearly 500 confirmed kills of livestock animals since gray wolves returned to Oregon nearly 30 years ago. Oregon 2nd District Congressman Cliff Bentz held a listening session Thursday in Prineville to learn the direct and indirect costs to cattle ranchers.

There have been five confirmed kills of livestock by wolves in Crook County. Because gray wolves west of Highway 395 are still listed as endangered species, there’s not much ranchers can do about it.

East of Highway 395, where the wolves are no longer listed as endangered, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife actively manages the apex predators and allows ranchers to kill wolves that attack livestock.

“The cattle are going to where ever they can get to be safe. You are having to deal with that,” said Shawn Samuels. “Our guys are out working, doing their best riding the range. We’ve got to ride the range a whole lot more than before. We can only cover 50-60 miles a day.”

Bentz asked ranchers to quantify their losses.

Not just the number cattle killed by wolves, but also the losses of production and revenue due to lower pregnancy rates, and lower weights of cows running for their lives.

“We’ve had so many ranchers come in and tell us about animals they’ve lost,” said Crook County Judge Seth Crawford. “They are seeing animals not being able to be managed by dogs. They are seeing lower pregnancy rates, lower weight. It’s something that’s really hurting the cattle industry in Crook County. For the congressman to come here and listen to our concerns is very helpful.”

During an upcoming hearing in Washington D.C., Bentz intends to demonstrate how much wolves are actually costing ranchers in Oregon.

“The numbers I’m looking for are how many cows are lost, how many calves are lost but more to the point: How the psychological impact on your herd drives down birth rates, and the cost of having to hire people to ride around your herd on tens of thousands of acres to try to make sure wolves don’t kill your crop.”

Bentz believes rural Oregon cattle ranchers are shouldering an unfair burden of the cost of reintroducing wolves. He wants all endangered species act protections for wolves removed so they can be managed by state wildlife agencies.

Click here to view Oregon’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.

▶️ Deschutes County considers business licenses for short-term rentals

Short term rentals, the kind you book through apps like Airbnb and VRBO, could be facing new requirements in Deschutes County.

In most cities those rentals are already regulated. But outside city limits — at least in Deschutes County — there is little monitoring or limits on short term rentals.

On Wednesday, Deschutes County Commissioners considered how six other Oregon counties implemented short-term rental business license programs and discussed the cost and feasibility of implementing such programs locally.

The estimated cost to initiate a short-term rental business licensing program in unincorporated parts of Deschutes County range from $500,000 to $1 million. 

“What’s the responsibility for verifying who is the point of contact? What’s the process for handling complaints? Those are all open ended questions that don’t naturally come to the community development department if it’s not a land use program,” said Peter Gutowsky, Deschutes County Community Development director.

There are more than 3,000 homes in rural Deschutes County that are available as short-term rentals.

Most of them are in developed destination resorts like Sunriver, Black Butte Ranch and Eagle Crest that have a long history of managing rental housing for public health and safety. 

It’s the approximately 800 rental homes outside resort areas that appear to be driving county commission discussions to require business licenses.

“We are allowing this right now when we don’t know what could be going on out there so how do we get our hands around it? We implement a program. When we implement a program, things might be brought to the county’s attention,” said Stephanie Marshall, Deschutes County assistant legal counsel. “What do we do with that information? I don’t know if that would require additional code enforcement officers.” 

Deschutes County recently approved development of accessory dwelling units outside urban growth boundaries and many of those could become short-term rentals.

The question is who do neighbors direct concerns to if there are problems with how rental units are run?

“A process of having a place to report for neighbors to call in and say there’s loud noise. We think the septic is overflowing. There’s not a trash receptacle,” said Jen Patterson, Deschutes County strategic initiative manager. In counties where short-term rental business licenses have been adopted, “These things did get resolved at the lowest level.” 

Most Oregon counties that require short-term rental business licenses regulate the number of legal bedrooms, the capacity of on-site septic systems and proof of liability insurance.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Deschutes Trail Coalition helps with repair backlog

There are more than 2,000 miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails on the Deschutes National Forest, and not nearly enough money or people to maintain them all.

The Deschutes Trails Coalition formed in 2017 to help the Forest Service address a growing backlog of trail maintenance and repairs.

We caught up with the Deschutes Trail Coalition’s professional trail maintenance crew on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail near Charlton Lake. This area was burned over by the Cedar Creek Fire in 2022. The scorched soils don’t absorb water as easily, which accelerates erosion problems.

The crew is working to reestablish the tread of the trail. 

“In some cases, the tread was going in slope which would leave the water on the trail. In some cases, it was too far out sloped which would make people feel like they were falling off the trail. They are trying to reestablish a nice tread width again with a little bit of out slope to ensure water doesn’t stay on the trail,” said Jason Whittaker, DTC trails coordinator. 

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This is a pilot project by the Deschutes Trails Coalition to pay a trail maintenance crew to chip away all summer long on the growing backlog of trail maintenance issues. 

“The intent and need behind all this is we are seeing growing impacts on our trails. We don’t have the resources currently. There’s relatively few resources to maintain that over the long haul,” said Jana Johnson, Deschutes Trails Coalition executive director. 

“In our community, we all benefit from them because we love using them. Or we have businesses that benefit from the trail users that come here to live or work or play. This is an opportunity for us to come together to support those resources that we all love. Through this coalition, we can share strength, resources and envisioning and networking to more efficiently and effectively take care of our trails,” Johnson said. 

The Deschutes Trail Coalition crew of five people worked all over the Deschutes National Forest in their first year of operations.

They worked with partner agencies to harden river access points at the Good Dog off-leash area upstream of Bend. They cut hundreds of trees that fell over and blocked trails in the Green Lakes area. They helped build footbridges over creeks and dug countless drains so hikers don’t have to walk on flooded trails.

“It’s really helpful when it has been raining because you can see where the water is going and then you kind of make a little funnel, make a little wall so the water stops, and it moves off the trail,” said Emily Metthauer, a trail crew member. 

Visitors to local resorts such as Tetherow and Sunriver pay $1 extra on their guest bills. The money goes directly to support DTC’s trail work. 

“They’ve gotten great feedback from their guests. They’ve stayed here. They’ve enjoyed the trails. They are happy to give that dollar at the end of their stay,” Johnson said. 

Thirty-five agencies and organizations partner in the Deschutes Trails Coalition, putting their heads together to identify high-priority, sustainable trail projects that balance the needs of people and nature. The paid, professional, full-time trail crew is one result of that collaboration.

It looks like an outdoor lover’s dream. 

“It really is. We have a lot of people who like to get out and who love trail-based recreation. It is a dream job for folks on the trail crew. You get to be out every day. You get to explore new parts of the forest. Maybe learn some new skills and work with great people,” Johnson said.

Visit the Deschutes Trails Coalition website if you are interested in volunteering, applying for a position on the professional trail crew member or a potential sponsor.

▶️ Fentanyl awareness campaign visits local school with drug sniffing dog demo

(Editor’s note: Due to some unforseen technical difficulties with our camera in the field, some of the video in the package above will not appear as smooth as normal. We apologize for this.)

Deschutes County is combatting the fentanyl crisis by raising awareness in local schools.

On Thursday, an entourage of people and a drug-sniffing dog who work on the front lines of the drug problem visited Cascades Academy in Tumalo.

The highlight of the presentation was a visit by K9 Bonny, a drug-sniffing springer spaniel who never stops moving until she finds a filter with an odor of fentanyl in a bookcase, not the actual drug itself.

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Then and only then does Bonny get her reward, a toy she proudly displays to everyone in the room.

“There are options out there. There is help for them or friends that may be suffering,” said Deputy Neil Marchington, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. “We talked about how dangerous some of the substances are particularly with the fentanyl epidemic with the massive amount of death we’ve experienced. It’s devastating watching somebody die right in front of you and trying to bring them back with Narcan.”

Four fentanyl-related deaths in a span of a few days earlier this year prompted the Deschutes County Commissioners to declare a state of emergency.

Statewide, more than one thousand deaths were attributed to drug overdoses last year, mostly from unregulated fentanyl manufactured overseas, shipped through Mexico, and distributed locally.

“They are not alone. The community is here to help them,” said Shawnda Jennings, Peer Support Outreach Specialist for Ideal Option. “There is recovery. There are treatment facilities. There are 12-step fellowships. Recovery is possible.” 

Jennings shared her lived experience as a drug addict, which she escaped with help from the organization she now represents. 

Deschutes County Sheriff’s detective sergeant Kent van der Kamp advised students not to accept any drugs offered to them on the street.

He said one dose of unregulated fentanyl can kill a healthy teenager.

▶️ Apartment vacancy rate rises as hundreds of new rentals become available

Apartment availability in Deschutes County is at its highest level in a decade.

That means more choices for people looking for places to live and the cost to rent is stabilizing.

Apartment vacancy rates in Deschutes County averaged about 6% the past the 10 years until last year, when hundreds of new units became available, and supply actually got ahead of demand.

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“Vacancy rates have gone up to 8.9% as a result of the last four years of very heavy construction, heavier than we’ve had since the early 2000s,” said Dan Kemp, Vic President and Principal Broker at Compass Commercial. “To put it into perspective, we’ve added 32% which is over 2,100 multi-family units just in the past four years.”

Apartment monthly rental rates have increased about 50% the past 10 years, from $1,100 in 2014 to $1,800 in 2024.

Property managers talk about the rate at which new units are “absorbed” by renters.

Because the demand isn’t keeping up with the sudden increase in supply, the vacancy rate is rising.

Normally in a supply and demand marketplace that would signal a decrease in costs to rent, but don’t hold your breath.

“The cost of land. The cost of construction. Developers can only lower their prices so much before a project doesn’t pencil. With that said, we are seeing more concessions in the market where landlords are competing for those tenants.” 

Kemp said the average rent for an apartment in Deschutes County is around $1,800 a month. That’s a number I confirmed with the managers of the Outlook at Pilot Butte apartments.

“We’ve got about 680 more units in the pipeline. That’s another 10% of our supply that’s coming online in the next couple of years. Some is coming online in 2024. Some in 2026. In 2025, there’s about four quarters where there’s not a lot of new construction that’s going to be delivered, as a result it will allow vacancy rates to catch up a little bit.”

Kemp says apartment vacancy rates will yo-yo between 6 and 9 percent for the next few years as more apartments come online and they are absorbed (rented) by newcomers to the area.

“We’ve got better in-migration than anywhere else in the state. The allure of Central Oregon, the recreational community, that’s not going away. The word is getting out there so this (high vacancy rate) is short-lived. This is a few years. If most multi-family owners have a long-term vision, they are going to be just fine.”

▶️ Wrong-way park job results in towing fees and graffiti ‘love notes’

A badly parked car that took up three parking spaces all weekend in downtown Bend had people wondering about the driver’s motives.

Some grew frustrated and scrawled “Nice park job” graffiti on the car, while parking citations accumulated under the windshield wipers.

“It’s not everyday you see a car going the wrong way down a one-way street taking up three parking spots,” said Nate Powers, who works at Engel & Volkers, one of several businesses impacted by the lost parking. “Also it had been tagged which is unusual. Very strange taking up prime downtown spots. After hearing it was left here all weekend, I think that’s a little unusual.”

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The car in question, a late model Subaru, was parked across three pull in parking spots, facing the wrong direction on Wall Street.

It sat there for two days drawing the ire of people hunting for parking spaces.

“Officer initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle that was traveling the wrong way on a one way street.  The vehicle was driving around 2 am Saturday morning,” said Sheila Miller, Bend Police communications manager. “The vehicle pulled over to the right out of the lane of travel but into those parking spaces. Our officer made an arrest on suspicion of DUII. That person was at .25 BAC,” which is three times the legal limit. 

Miller says because the car was not blocking the travel lanes, it was left to be reclaimed by the owner. 

But the owner remained in jail longer than expected so finally, on Monday morning, the vehicle was towed.

“The graffiti is unfortunate. It’s not how we encourage the public to express their concerns. If the driver reports that we will investigate that,” Miller said.

“I think it’s important to note this is something that could have been entirely avoided if the person had chosen not to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.”

In addition to legal trouble associated with driving under the influence,  the car’s owner faces parking violations, a towing fee and daily impound charges totaling about $250. The fees increase until they are paid.

An expensive night on the town.

▶️ The Great Outdoors: Meissner Nordic Club keeps popular sno-park groomed

The Meissner Nordic Club is riding a rising tide of popularity in cross country skiing. Thanks to community support, the non-profit ski club now offers daily grooming of nearly 30 miles of trails that are open to everybody at the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park.

William Warburton drives a $250,000 snow grooming machine purchased with donations from the community.

“We pick the speed, how fast the tiller spins. We decide how deep the teeth cut into the snow. Then we are setting the tracks for the classic. Lots of adjustments we can do with the blade or tiller and how fast we drive to make sure it’s a fun, skiable surface,” Warburton said. “The track pan is down on that side behind us. The other one is up in the air. We try to set two tracks where it’s wide, then on the narrow trails just set one. Pretty much everything is groomed for skate and classic.” 

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Thousands of people go cross-country skiing, skate skiing and snowshoeing on the Meissner Nordic trails each winter. It’s the closest developed sno-park near Bend.  There is no ticket window. No gate. No operating hours. You can ski there any time of the day or night, though most people wait until the trails are groomed.

“The number of Nordic skiers in Central Oregon has grown dramatically in the eight years I’ve been on the Meissner Nordic board. We are just offering people opportunities to come up and ski,” said Steve Roti, president of the Meissner Nordic Board of Directors. “There’s a lot of us older, retired people who come out but there’s also a lot of younger people. All the high school teams come here to train. We see a lot of high schoolers and families on the trails. It is packed on the weekends with families and little kids.”

Ken Roadman, coach of the Redmond Nordic Ski Team, said having a community ski area where “we can bring the kids and not be charged each day… frankly, we wouldn’t be able to operate without a place like this.” 

Most of the students on the Redmond Nordic Ski Team have never skied before. The students train together but represent their individual schools — Ridgeview and Redmond high schools and the Redmond Proficiency Academy — when they compete in races.

“What I really love to see is the excitement on the kids’ faces when they really learn a skill and just have them remember the first day on the snow when they were falling down and it was all going wrong for them,” Roadman said. “And now they are outskiing me by far. They are young. They are limber. They don’t mind falling. They go real fast down hills. It’s just real fun to see that.” 

When I last visited the Meissner Nordic Club, they were grooming the ski trails four days a week. They now groom seven days a week, which spurs more utilization of the trails and, in turn, more donations.

“Our average individual donation is in the $75 to $100 range. For families it’s in the $150 to $200 range,” Roti said. “We just have more people, families and individuals donating. We have more corporate sponsors. We get no money from the Forest Service or the State of Oregon. We are entirely 100% donation supported. Having those individuals, families and corporate supporters makes this all possible.” 

The donations pay for professionals to operate a snowcat that grooms the trails that make Meissner so accessible and enjoyable for skiers of all skill levels. The club embraces technology, publishing real-time trail grooming information so that anyone can study conditions in advance and decide how much of a cross country ski adventure they want to undertake.

“Each of the drivers has an app on our phones that record where we go and publishes that straight to the Meissner website and their app so people can see live and in real-time, they can see where we are right now and what we have groomed,” Warburton said. 

The club tracks four metrics to determine use of the Meissner trails: 

  • Donations, which have been going up substantially in recent years
  • A social media following of about 10,000followers at latest count
  • The number of cars in the parking lot, which is frequently full especially on weekends
  • The volume of recyclable cans and bottles they clean out of the shelter each day

How much more can the club do? Is the trail system big enough for the demand that appears to be coming this way? 

“On a year like last year where we had adequate snow for four months, the trail system is big enough,” Roti said. “On years when there’s not enough snow, for example last month, the trail system is a little tight. When we were only able to groom five days in December, we only had a really small section of trails we could open up.”

If climate change continues to happen and if the snow footprint in Central Oregon gets smaller, “We may need to look at expanding the trail system. Moving trails higher. Work with other winter trail groups, which we are doing. For example, the Central Oregon Nordic Club, DogPac, COTA, even the snowmobile clubs, we are all going to work together and ensure a wintery future for Central Oregon,” Roti said. 

▶️ Meissner Nordic app 3.1 adds realtime trail grooming updates, skier location

Skiers love to know conditions before they head out so they know what equipment and clothing to take. A Bend man has been answering those questions for three years with the Meissner Nordic App that you can download and use on your phone.

James Montemagno wishes he could volunteer every day at the Meissner Nordic Ski area, but he has a full-time job. So, he did the next best thing. He developed an app loaded with current weather and trail conditions that skiers love.

Launched in December 2021 to rave reviews, the app shows skiers what trails at the Meissner Nordic Ski area have been groomed, snow conditions and whether the parking lot has been plowed.

“One of the big features is interactive maps,” Montemagno said. “I wanted to make sure when you are out on the trails when you are skiing, you can pull it up and see yourself on the map and get direction information. Especially for new skiers, it’s important to see what the difficulty is of each of those trails.”

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The Meissner Nordic App, now available in its third version, is a certifiable hit with skiers who’ve downloaded it nearly 10,000 times.

“When they get here at five in the morning and they go grooming, you can see whose grooming, you can see how fast they’re going, you can see where they’ve been and you can kind of guess where they are going,” said Don Leet, Bend Endurance Academy instructor. “So, for me, it’s important because I plan my ski day that way.”

Montemagno says he developed the app as a gift to the non-profit Meissner Nordic Ski Club that maintains 47 kilometers of classic, skate skiing and snowshoeing trails open to the public at no charge.

“So many people want to know, is it groomed? Is the parking lot empty? What’s the weather like? The app has been a great way to communicate that information,” said Chris Scheer, a Meissner Nordic Club ambassador.

Thousands of people ski the Meissner Nordic trails each winter. A percentage of them donate to the nordic club to keep the trails groomed for enjoyable ski trips close to town.

“I have a job. I can’t be out there every morning helping out. This is my way of giving back,” Montemagno said. “I love building applications. I hope other people find it useful and if they do, that’s awesome.” 

The Great Outdoors: Sunriver dog trainer tunes up for Idaho Sled Dog Challenge

Dogs are part of the Central Oregon lifestyle. They go trail running and hiking with their people. Some of them point, flush and retrieve pheasants and quail. And some of them pull sleds through the snow for hundreds of miles. 

Jane Devlin raises, trains and goes adventuring with Siberian Huskies in Central Oregon. I caught up with her at the 10 Mile Sno-Park near Paulina Lake as she was tuning up her dogs for the Idaho Sled Dog Challenge.

“Right now, I’m putting Mushers Secret on their paws. It’s a wax in their paws that keeps snowballs from getting stuck. It feels like you are running on rocks. I prefer to do that instead of booties because booties tend to come off and they tend to ball up worse. Then they have their nails without the booties to grip,” Devlin said.

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Few breeds are more enthusiastic, energetic and focused than Siberian Huskies. They live to run and pull a sled through the snow. 

“They love it. They are doing it because they love it. There’s the pack mentality. They get excited and they go. At a certain age they tell you that they are done.” At that point they are happy to be skijoring dogs and hiking companions,” Devlin said. 

Devlin, who owns Snow Mouse Kennels near Sunriver, is running her team of sled dogs in the Warm Lake Stage Race, one of three events at this year’s Idaho Sled Dog Challenge. 

“You are not just standing there. You are calling turns. You are calling commands. You are always watching the dogs, making sure everybody is running healthy. You are keeping the speed comfortable. You are often running up hills behind them. As long as those lines are tight. You can also be kicking, almost like on a skateboard. We call it peddling. It’s a lot of balance around turns. There’s a lot of bumps. You learn to feel your dogs. It’s always a challenge, especially in a new place that you don’t know,” Devlin said.

Running sled dogs is the epitome of understanding, training and caring for dogs. Devlin describes it as “way beyond a hobby … a completely immersive passion.

“I don’t care about racing. That’s more the human element. The dogs don’t care if they are racing. They are just high on the whole experience, the other dogs, being outside. That’s what I love, also going places that support your adventure. It can be dangerous. You want to know that there are some trail spotters out there and a few avalanche beacons and things like that,” Devlin said.

You can help Devlin and her dog teams by letting them pass if you encounter them on the ski and snowmobile trails in the snowy backcountry. By all means, stop and admire the amazing sights and sounds of humans and canines working together, having the times of their lives.

“Just get your dog off the trail. If you are on a snowmobile, stay on the right. Most of us train our dogs to stay on the right. The main thing is just slow down around corners. You’ve got to know what’s coming. Pass slowly. Usually, we’ll give you a signal. We’ll wave you on by. Most of the snowmobiles around here are pretty good about telling you there’s nobody behind or there’s three behind. You’ve just got to communicate. We’ve got to share the trail,” Devlin said.

When she’s not running her sled dogs, Devlin trains other peoples’ dogs. Her business, Dog Aerobics Training, is based in the Sunriver area. She can be reached through the Sunriver Vet Clinic.

“I like to leave with happy dogs and come back with happy dogs. That’s always my goal. If they aren’t having a good time, then why am I out there? Just making sure that everyone’s comfortable, that they are all enjoying themselves. It’s all about dog care. Then you do the next race, and you have that trust. ‘OK, we had a good time, she can be our leader. She’s all right. We’ll keep her,'” Devlin said.

▶️ As weather warms, road crews switch from plowing and sanding to sweeping

One week ago, we were digging out of the snowstorm that hit Central Oregon. Crews were plowing and sanding around the clock trying to keep the roads open.

Today, much of the snow in Bend has melted and crews are beginning to sweep up all the traction sand and cinders.

Road maintenance agencies sweep up traction sand and gravel because, once the ground is dry and ice-free, the material is slippery to cars, bicycles and pedestrians.

“The amount of sanding rock we have out there, it’s a little too aggressive on those air machines. So today, for example, we’ve got three mechanical broom sweepers out focusing on the arterials and collectors first. Kind of like our priorities in winter ops, we have priorities in sweeping as well,” said David Abbas, Director of Streets & Operations for the City of Bend. 

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You may have noticed there are different colors of traction sand. The City of Bend uses coarse-ground black basalt, whereas the Oregon Department of Transportation uses red cinders. But they both do the same job.

In just the past week, ODOT applied 1,700 cubic yards of cinders in the Bend area, so there’s a lot to clean up. 

“We have big street sweepers that go along and pick up all of this cinder-sand material,” said Kacey Davey, Public Information Officer for ODOT’s Central Region. “They have attachments that clean the sidewalks as they go. It takes about two to three times as long to pick up this material as it does to put down in the first place.”

Speaking of gravel on sidewalks, except in certain problem areas, it is the responsibility of the adjacent landowner to clean up, just like removing snow.

“Along Franklin and some other main corridors, we’ll get some staff out there with backpack blowers and get it off the sidewalk and have the sweeper come in right behind them and pick that up,” Abbas said. “It’s not everywhere in town. We’ve got 900 lane miles. We are definitely not clearing off every sidewalk in town.”

The City of Bend’s swept up traction gravel is used as capping material at Knott Landfill.