Defense of the Metolius River Basin and Metolius Headwaters

Central Oregon LandWatch has been defending the Metolius River Basin and Metolius Headwaters and other springs and river systems in the Metolius for over 25 years. Originally known as the Sisters Forest Planning Committee (SFPC), LandWatch opposed Forest Service timber sales which would have logged in roadless areas, along sensitive streams and in old growth ponderosa pine stands.

See an early brochure of this SFPC work


In the late 1980’s, LandWatch leaders were part of the Save the Metolius campaign which successfully stopped extensive recreation development plans along the Metolius. The campaign also succeeded in persuading the Forest Service to create a special designation for the Basin, the Metolius Conservation Area.
Vintage Metolius Ad

Read the Metolius Conservation Area Description

At the same time, Central Oregon LandWatch took the Forest Service to federal court for systematic noncompliance with timber sale environmental assessments in the Metolius Basin. With the aid of expert witnesses from Oregon State University, LandWatch documented sweeping failures to protect riparian areas, preserve wildlife trees and close roads over a 10-year period. The lawsuit, which concluded in a settlement, and the MCA designation helped stop virtually all logging of old growth ponderosa pine in the Basin.

Read the 1990 complaint

Forest Service management of the Metolius Basin then changed so much for the better over the next decade that the next time LandWatch went to federal court it was on the side of the Forest Service, intervening against an environmental group’s opposition to a thinning project in the Basin. Along with Friends of the Metolius, Central Oregon LandWatch supported the Forest Service’s plans to thin smaller diameter trees to help prevent catastrophic fires in the Basin. The Forest Service, along with LandWatch and Friends of the Metolius, prevailed.

The past two decades also presented growing challenges of private development in the Basin and development impacts on springs and rivers. LandWatch successfully worked to curb additional rural development allowed by so-called Measure 37 claims and twice over the past 10 years appealed plans by Jefferson County to facilitate greater development in the Basin and in the Metolius Deer Winter Range to the east. In the first case, Jefferson County ended up withdrawing its plans and in the second case LandWatch appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals, then to the Oregon Court of Appeals, and then to the Oregon Supreme Court.

The last set of appeals were primarily out of concern for proposed mapping of destination resorts in the Metolius Basin. Water consumption from resorts could have jeopardized the flows of the Headwaters of the Metolius, the Metolius River, and its tributaries. While pursuing litigation to stop the destination resorts, LandWatch also supported legislative efforts in the 2007 Legislature to protect the Metolius. That effort was not successful. Then in 2009 LandWatch took the lead in advocating for protection of the area with the Legislature. Just after the Oregon Supreme Court granted review of our case, the Legislature passed the Metolius Area of Critical Statewide Concern, prohibiting destination resorts and protecting the springs.

Read 2007 letter to the Senate Educ. & General Government Committee
Read LandWatch’s 2007 Save the Metolius Action Alert
Read LandWatch’s 2009 Save the Metolius Action Alert
Read LandWatch’s 2009 Final Call to Save the Metolius Action Alert
Read the 2009 Metolius Protection Act: Myths and Facts
Read We Will Lose the Metolius as it is if We Don’t Act NOW
Read Paul Dewey’s 2009 email to Rep. Galizio
See our brief to the Oregon Supreme Court
Read the new statute and its Management Plan

Following up on these achievement, LandWatch succeeded in 2011 in getting the Oregon Legislature to include in its reauthorization of the Deschutes Groundwater Mitigation Program a special requirement that the Oregon Water Resources Department report to the Legislature on "impacts of the program on the Headwaters of the Metolius River and other key reaches of the Metolius River system."

Joining with the Warm Springs Tribes and Friends of the Metolius, LandWatch appealed to LUBA the Jefferson County approval of a 15-unit “fishing” subdivision in a forest zone on the Metolius arm of Lake Billy Chinook. The County attempted to expand a narrow rule exception that allows 15 sleeping rooms for temporary use fishing season accommodations into a large loophole that would permit 15 separate dwelling units.

LUBA in its decision of Central Oregon LandWatch, et al. v. Jefferson County, ____ Or LUBA ____ (LUBA No. 2010-080, -083, and -084) (2011), reversed Jefferson County’s approval. This was a win of statewide significance where the proposed loophole would have allowed similar inappropriate development not only on the rest of the Metolius River but on rivers throughout the state, including the McKenzie, the Rogue, etc. The victory follows our 2009 legislative victory in the creation of the protective Metolius Area of Critical State Concern (“ACSC”).

See Central Oregon LandWatch, et al. V. Jefferson County, __ Or LUBA __ (LUBA No. 2010-080)

Along with our allies in the defense of the Metolius, the Friends of the Metolius and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, LandWatch seeks to vigilantly watch out for the Metolius and its special resources.