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Good cherry season for consumers, not so much for growers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

YAKIMA, Wash. — It’s been a stellar Northwest cherry season in terms of weather, fruit quality and sale prices for consumers.

But it’s likely to be the largest crop on record at more than 25 million, 20-pound boxes, making it less than stellar for grower returns.

“It’s been the best cherry weather ever. No rain. It hasn’t been 100 degrees every day and it’s been cool at night. But pricing has not improved,” says Brenda Thomas, president of Orchard View Farms in The Dalles, the largest cherry grower in Oregon.

Wholesale prices averaged $25 to $27 per 18-pound box two weeks ago and have not gotten better, Thomas said. The wholesale average over the past three years was $35 per box, she said.

Early cherries were small, later ones are larger but more volume has not increased profits, she said.

“This year it’s a lot of work for little pay. It’s really at the orchard level. Orchards won’t get the returns they received last year,” she said.

It will be one of the lower-return years for Orchard View Farms growers and most likely throughout the industry, she said.

Retail advertising sales prices typically run $1.99 to $2.99 per pound. Prices this year have been $1.88 per pound and lower.

“It’s been tough the last two to three weeks. Prices are not where we like them to be but where they had to be to move the volume. Retailers for the most part reciprocated to move the crop. Movement has been good,” said Tom Riggan, general manager of Chelan Fresh Marketing.

Fruit has been smaller throughout the season and small fruit doesn’t sell as well as larger, he said.

“Quite a few packers including ourselves are not packing 11.5-row cherries and smaller. They go to the briner,” Riggan said.

As of July 20, 18.5 million, 20-pound boxes of cherries had shipped from Northwest packers. Of that, 10.6 million boxes were shipped in July, according to B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima, Wash.

Shipments averaged 536,392 per day for the first 20 days of July, a record for that period, Thurlby wrote in a July 21 industry memo.

There’s a chance the season will exceed 25 million boxes, he wrote. The record is 23.4 million in 2014. Northwest cherries have been the No. 1 advertised item in produce, slightly ahead of table grapes, he wrote. Harvest has also begun in Montana.

Riggan said Northwest Cherry Growers, the industry promotional arm, promoted heavily in July.

“They’ve done a good job communicating well with retailers to be very aggressive in July because there’s a lot of opportunity for increased sales,” Riggan said.

Sales will be heaviest in July and may set a record in August and run into September, he said.

There are 6 million to 7 million boxes left to go and prices may increase at the end, he said. That likely will be too late for Orchard View, which will finish its season Aug. 5, Thomas said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, a large cherry shipper, said the company has stayed caught up on shipments, which helps with returns. There have been challenges and benefits with larger fruit getting good prices and smaller fruit selling for less, he said.

“It was a good Rainier season and we’re starting up the hill now (Stemilt Hill south of Wenatchee). We’re optimistic about the last five weeks,” he said.

Higher elevation, later fruit usually sells for higher prices.

Trial studies application of herbicide through drip systems in onions

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Oregon State University researchers are trying to provide onion growers in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon with another tool to control the weed yellow nutsedge in fields where red and white onions are grown.

The Oregon and Idaho agriculture departments last year issued a special local need label that allows the herbicide Outlook to be applied through drip irrigation systems in fields where Spanish yellow bulb onions are grown.

The herbicide was already approved for surface application in onion fields but it wasn’t previously approved for use in drip systems in yellow onion fields.

Now, OSU researchers in Malheur County are conducting a field trial in which Outlook is being applied through a drip system in red and white onions.

If that trial is successful, BASF, which produces Outlook, could apply for a similar special need label for white and red onions, said OSU weed scientist Joel Felix, who is leading the trial.

“We’re satisfied with what we’ve seen so far,” he said of the white and red onion trial.

Felix said a previous yellow onion trial showed that Outlook is much more effective in controlling yellow nutsedge when applied through a drip system compared to surface application.

About 90 percent of the Spanish bulb onions grown in the region are yellows, while the rest are whites and reds. About 60 percent of the 21,000 acres of onions produced here each year are grown on drip systems.

Yellow nutsedge is a common weed in the region. While it is fairly easily managed in other crops, “it has been a challenge managing it in onions,” Felix said. “It has been a devastating weed for onion growers.”

Onion farmer Paul Skeen said the special need label for Outlook in yellow onions is a big help in the fight against yellow nutsedge, and getting a similar label for white and red onions would help the industry even more.

“We’re kind of on a learning curve with (Outlook applied through a drip system) but it really does work well,” he said.

While the results of the red and white onion trial are promising so far, it’s likely that BASF will want one more year of data before applying for a special label for reds and whites, Felix said.

He said that when applying Outlook through a drip system for onions, it’s critical to put the correct amount of the herbicide on the correct field size.

“There can be a devastating reduction in onion size if you apply the wrong rate,” he said. “Make sure the area is calculated correctly.”

It’s also important to dilute the herbicide to the point it can be injected through the drip system for at least 8 hours, he said.

ODFW confirms wolf attack on calf in Wallowa County

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A 250-pound calf found with numerous bites and scrapes was attacked by a wolf, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife investigation confirmed.

A rancher noticed the injuries July 21 while moving cattle on a public grazing allotment in the Harl Butte area of Wallowa County, in northeast Oregon. The cow and calf pair were hauled back to the home ranch. ODFW was notified and investigated the following day.

The calf had multiple bites and scrapes on its back legs, including one open wound that was 4 inches long and 3 inches wide. The size, location and direction of the bites were “consistent with common attack points for wolves,” according to an ODFW report.

The calf was alert and responsive, according to the report. The injuries were estimated to be about seven days old. Tracking collar data showed a wolf designated OR-50 was in the grazing area during the time the attack is thought to have occurred.

Third-party damage exempted from growers’ production history

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Growers with crop insurance will no longer be penalized for damage to their crop caused by someone else.

The USDA Risk Management Agency is now offering third-party damage and fire exemptions — under certain criteria — for events such as chemical drift caused by a neighbor or a fire caused by a cigarette tossed out the window of a passing car.

“They’re all to some extent unavoidable and they’re also uninsured,” said Ben Thiel, director of the USDA Risk Management Agency office in Spokane Valley, Wash. “They sustained damage, it’s not insurable, there’s no idemnity for these types of damages.”

In the past, the damage went on a farmer’s production history report, which is used to establish crop insurance coverage.

Farmers can now report their production as always, but exclude the acres affected by third-party damage, said Rick Williams, senior risk management specialist.

Such situations are fairly rare, Thiel said, but “for those affected, it’s a huge deal.”

Pacific Northwest grower associations requested the change, Thiel said.

“There’s a lot of things the farmer is dealing with, psychologically and emotionally and financially,” Thiel said. “To have just one more thing being piled onto it — ‘Here I’m getting penalized for something that’s no fault of my own.’”

The farmer is responsible for reporting and providing information about a loss in a timely manner to the crop insurance agent. The changes start with the 2017 crop year, Thiel said.

The program works for any crop under crop insurance nationwide, Thiel said. The agency is educating crop insurance companies about the changes.

Toxic tansy ragwort makes a comeback in W. Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The toxic weed tansy ragwort has spread this year around Western Oregon with particularly large populations in Marion and Clackamas counties.

The outbreak is the worst Sam Leininger, WeedWise program manager, has seen in the program’s eight years of operation. WeedWise began in 2008 to “support more effective management of invasive weeds in Clackamas County,” according to its website.

Tansy is dangerous to humans and livestock because of a poisonous alkaloid in the plant’s tissue that causes liver damage when eaten. Signs of poisoning are consistent with liver failure, said Dr. Charles Estill, Oregon State University Extension veterinary agent.

“Horses get jaundiced, lethargic, slow, depressed, stop chewing in the middle of eating and wandering — some die from the wandering, from either walking off a cliff or walking into a pond and drowning,” said Estill.

While grazing animals generally avoid eating tansy, heavily infested pastures or hay contaminated with the weed can make it nearly impossible for the animals to avoid consumption. If tansy is more than 5 percent of the plants in a pasture, it creates an opportunity for toxicity, Estill said.

Young animals are especially susceptible because “they have different physiology or not as much life experience,” he said, as well as being less discriminatory of what they eat.

Tansy can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to kill an animal. No treatment is available.

“(An animal) can ingest it now and die at Christmastime,” Estill said. Most cases are suspected and not confirmed, he said.

There haven’t been any reported cases so far this year of animals killed by tansy consumption, but it is too early in the year to know, said Dr. Morrie Craig, professor of toxicology at Oregon State’s veterinarian research laboratory.

Unlike horses and cattle, sheep have ruminal microbes in their stomach that can eat the alkaloids that the tansy produces. Craig said research is underway to take advantage of these ruminal microbes.

“We’re thinking we’re going to try a way to capsulate ruminal microbes, and make a probiotic out of it that you can give to a cow,” Craig said, “and then it’ll have the microbes in its stomach to break it down.”

Tansy ragwort is identifiable by its flat yellow flowers that cluster at the top of the plant. The stems are green — occasionally with a reddish tinge — and the leaves are ruffled and dark green, according to a report by WeedWise. At maturity, the plant can grow up to 6 feet tall and produce up to 200,000 seeds that remain in the soil for more than 10 years.

The infestation is most likely caused by the cool, wet and mild springs that Oregon has had for the past two years, Leininger said. The conditions have undermined biological controls such as the Cinnabar moth and flea beetle, which during the larval stage eat the roots of the plant. They were introduced from 1960 to 1971 by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. By the mid-1980s cattle deaths by tansy had been reduced by more than 90 percent, a report from the ODA said.

Butler explained that these biological controls work on a cycle with the plant.

“With a crash in the tansy population we have the mirror image of the bio-controls dropping off. Then when the (tansy) comes back there will be a lag time for the fleas to come back,” he said. “People who want to get more bio-controls, we can’t supply anything that’s going to speed up the natural process. It won’t make a significant difference.”

At this point, it’s too late to spray the weeds with herbicide, he said.

“Spraying won’t do anything. The time to spray is early spring when it’s a rosette, or in fall after the rain,” Butler said.

Mowing the tansy when it’s in full bloom isn’t a solution, either, because it can cause plants to become short-lived perennials, and grow back next year.

However, Butler understands the motivation behind mowing, whether it’s to appease neighbors or make the pastures look better.

WeedWise encourages removing the seed heads and putting them into bags to keep seeds from spreading. If there is a concern about exposure to cattle and horses, Leininger said to remove the tansy from the field.

“Some (people) want to pull it and leave it, but the plant’s potability can increase in its wilt phase,” Leininger said. “You have to understand it’s a big task, but preventing seeding is the ideal scenario.”

Craig said that grazing sheep on tansy-covered pastures could be a way to clean up the weed.

Tansy populations may have increased, but it doesn’t compare to the infestation in the 1970s and 1980s. Butler said that historically the Tillamook Valley at this time would be yellow with tansy, but this year there are few plants.

“We have to look at where there isn’t tansy; that’s the real success story,” Butler said. “It shows areas that are doing quite well and free from tansy. Every year there’s going to be pockets of tansy. It’s frustrating and I understand that, but it’s not the problem it once was.”

To prevent future infestations Leininger recommends spraying in the fall. He said that large-scale operations should apply a broadcast herbicide, but smaller operations can control it with a backpack sprayer.

“We are definitely encouraging people to control it as much as they can,” Leininger said. “It’s not something that any singular entity can take after, it takes a community.”

There are no silver bullets when it comes to tansy, Butler said.

Reward offered in shooting of Oregon bald eagle

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Capital Press

PORTLAND — Rewards totaling $7,500 are offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who shot a bald eagle near Gaston, Ore., in late June.

The eagle was captured by an Oregon State Police trooper June 28 and taken to the Portland Audubon’s wildlife rehabilitation center in Portland. It had been reported injured the previous week but was still able to fly at the point and wasn’t caught. The trooper later returned to the area and caught the eagle after following it through brush, a marsh and into a field. The bird was found near Old Highway 47 and Looking Glass Drive north of Gaston, a small community southwest of Portland.

The male eagle appears to have been shot in its right shoulder. The bird is in a rehabilitation flight cage at the care center; its longterm prognosis is not known at this point, a center spokeswoman said.

Although no longer on the endangered species list, bald eagles remain protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. It’s illegal to hunt, capture, injure or kill them. The crime is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail.

The Animal League Defense Fund has posted a $5,000 reward in the case, and Portland Audubon added $1,500 to the fund. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a $1,000 reward.

Anyone with information should contact USFWS at 503-682-6131 or Oregon State Police at 800-452-7888.

Sugar beet growers battle glyphosate-resistant kochia

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Kochia weeds that are resistant to the Roundup herbicide can now be found in sugar beet fields throughout Malheur County in Eastern Oregon and parts of Canyon County in southwestern Idaho.

Weed scientists worry it’s a matter of time before they’re abundant in sugar beet fields throughout southcentral Idaho as well.

Virtually all of the 180,000 acres of sugar beets grown in the region are genetically engineered to resist applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, the popular weed killer produced by Monsanto Corp.

Glyphosate-resistant kochia weeds were first detected in Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho in 2014 and weed scientists had initially hoped their numbers would remain small.

“In Malheur County in the Treasure Valley, it’s pretty much all over the place,” said Joel Felix, an Oregon State University weed scientist in Ontario. “And we know it’s in Canyon County across the river (in Idaho).”

While glyphosate-tolerant kochia weeds have been found in southcentral Idaho, they aren’t widespread there yet, said Don Morishita, a University of Idaho weed scientist in Kimberly.

However, he added, “I’m waiting for it to start showing up in great numbers here, too. I’m expecting that.”

Felix said kochia is a tumbleweed and he believes some of the glyphosate-tolerant weeds are detaching from fence lines or along field edges and dropping seed as they tumble through sugar beet fields.

“Taking care of fence lines and edges of fields should be a priority to keep kochia from tumbling into fields,” he said.

Idaho and Oregon farmers have been growing GE sugar beets for 12 seasons now and Snake River Sugar Cooperative officials estimate they save Idaho and eastern Oregon growers $22 million a year.

Rupert farmer Duane Grant, chairman of the coop’s board of directors, said kochia weeds are a major challenge in sugar beet production because they are a fierce competitor for sunlight, nutrients and water.

“They must be controlled. If not, they would take the yield in the field below the point anybody would want to grow the crop,” he said. “To the extent kochia is becoming resistant to Roundup, we will as a grower community have to find solutions.”

One solution being developed is an effort by Monsanto and KWS Saat Research, a plant breeding company headquartered in Germany, to develop a genetically engineered sugar beet that is resistant to both glyphosate and dicamba, another popular herbicide.

Incorporating both traits into sugar beets should prevent the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds because it’s unlikely a weed would be resistant to both modes of action, a KWS research scientist told sugar beet growers in Idaho in December 2015.

The technology is a couple of years away from being introduced to sugar beet growers, Grant said.

“That really should mitigate the effects of glyphosate resistance in kochia weeds,” he said. “We can hopefully hold them to an economic threshold and persevere until the next set of tools arrive.”

Water plentiful in Eastern Oregon, southwestern Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE — Many reservoirs in southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon are still close to 90 percent full, despite a brutal July heat spell that has kept high temperatures near or above 100 degrees the entire month.

Irrigators who get their water from the Boise Project Board of Control get by on natural flow in the Boise River until the amount of water leaving the river’s reservoir system exceeds the amount entering.

Then the project starts using water stored in the system’s three reservoirs and sets an allotment for how much water irrigators can receive from the reservoir system. That didn’t happen until July 14 this year, well beyond the normal June time-frame for that switch.

The BPBC set its 2017 allotment at 2.45 acre-feet, which is slightly less than the 2.6 acre-foot allotment in 2016.

However, the project only got by on natural flow until June 15 last year and that means some farmers, such as Drew Eggers of Meridian, will end up receiving all the water they need this year.

Eggers said he used about 3 acre-feet of water for his mint crop before the allotment was set and he probably won’t need to use all the water he is entitled to this year.

“We’re having a good water year,” he said. “I’ll have enough water to finish the crop and water the mint back up after harvest.”

The water outlook is just as good for the 1,800 farms in Eastern Oregon and part of southwestern Idaho that receive their irrigation water from the Owyhee Reservoir.

The reservoir, which supplies water to 118,000 acres, is 86 percent full.

That’s quite a switch from many of the previous five years, when the reservoir was almost tapped out at this date and irrigators received as little as a third of their full 4 acre-foot allotment.

“It’s unbelievable,” Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin said about the difference. “It’s almost the complete opposite.”

Chamberlin said the reservoir is enjoying one of its top five water supply years in its 82-year history and it’s possible water managers will run water later into October this year to help farmers finish off their crops.

“It will be nice to help them on the tail end because for four or five years, they’ve been short on the tail end,” he said.

Irrigators on the Weiser River system are also sitting good this year in terms of water supply and the system will likely carry over a decent amount of reservoir storage water into next season, said watermaster Brandi Horton.

“It’s definitely one of the better (waster supplies) we’ve seen in several years,” she said.

The Payette River system didn’t enjoy the same type of near-record snowpack that other basins in the region did this winter but its snow pack was above normal and irrigators can expect a good water supply this year, said watermaster Ron Shurtleff.

“We’re in fine shape. We’ll have plenty of water this year,” he said.

Robotic milkers popular despite dairy slump

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

When the antiquated milking parlor at the Abiqua Acres dairy became obsolete, the farm’s owners opted not to replace it.

Instead, they installed a new state-of-the art barn equipped with two robots that milk the cows at their convenience.

The machines will allow the farm to eventually expand its milking herd from 90 to 120 cows without having to hire employees, said Darleen Sichley, who runs the farm with her husband, Ben Sichley, and her parents, Alan and Barbara Mann.

“Robotics made a lot more sense than building a parlor and hiring help,” she said.

The Sichleys and Manns operate the dairy entirely themselves, so delegating the milking to robots frees up hours they’d otherwise spend in the milking parlor.

“We get our lives back,” said Ben.

Milk prices have fallen since the family began planning for the project, but they’re confident the robotic milkers will pencil out over the long term by allowing the farm to remain employee-free.

“We’ve always been family-run,” said Darleen.

Dairy farmers’ average “mailbox” price per hundredweight of milk — the amount of the check they get in the mail, minus transportation and other costs — plunged from a peak of nearly $26 in 2014 to a trough of roughly $14 in 2016. The price has since risen to more than $17 per hundredweight.

Despite their leaner earnings, dairy farmers have continued to invest in robotic milkers because of the concern over worker shortages, said Mark Brown, a regional general manager for DeLaval Dairy Service, which makes and sells the machines.

“That’s what’s driving it, more than anything,” Brown said.

DeLaval has seen sales of robotic milkers grow through the milk price slump, though demand would likely be even stronger if the industry was experiencing an economic upswing, he said.

“If milk prices were high, I don’t think we could build them fast enough,” said Brown.

While the lowest-cost milking systems will cost $1 per hundredweight or less to operate — compared to $2 or $3 per hundredweight for robotic milkers — farmers still see the automated systems as worthwhile, said Larry Tranel, an extension dairy specialist at Iowa State University who’s studied the economics of the machines.

Robots aren’t so much more expensive than many conventional milking parlors as to deter dairies from investing in the technology, since farmers are drawn to the reduced dependence on hiring workers, he said.

“They’re trading labor for technology,” Tranel said.

If immigration enforcement gets more strict, dairies also face the prospect of having to pay higher wages to attract U.S.-born employees, said Brian Gould, an agricultural economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“If the dairy industry is going to have to pay more for labor, it’s going to make robotics more attractive,” he said.

Aside from cutting labor, robotic milkers automatically collect data about cattle productivity and other traits that improve dairy management, said Brown of DeLaval Dairy Service.

New features and software are constantly being developed, including infrared cameras that regularly photograph each cow’s body to track how it’s responding to feed rations, he said.

“The machines are designed so that any future technology can be retrofit onto them,” Brown said.

Data analyzed by robotic milking systems can also alert farmers to any developing health problems before they’re readily noticeable, said Bob Russell, director of DeLaval Dairy Service North America.

“All those metrics can help give you an advance indication the cow may be becoming ill,” he said.

Robotic milkers have grown popular enough that cattle breeders are aiming for “robot ready” cows with characteristics such as square, uniform udders that make teats easier for the machine to locate, Brown said.

Manufacturers are trying to build robots that milk cows on rotating “carousels,” which are prized by large dairies for their efficiency.

As of now, though, those robots are still being perfected because it’s tougher for them to milk cows that are moving, said Brown. “It needs to be fast and in motion.”

Facility could speed onion delivery, open markets

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — A planned rail transload facility in Oregon’s Malheur County could reduce transportation costs for onion shippers in the region but, perhaps more importantly, it could also speed up delivery times and open up new markets.

Speeding up the time it takes the Spanish bulb onions grown here to reach markets on the East Coast would be the main advantage of a transload facility, said Eddie Rodriguez, director of sales for Partners Produce, one of 30 onion shippers in the Treasure Valley of Idaho and Oregon.

“Getting our product to the market sooner is the biggest benefit to us,” he said.

Because onions produced here and shipped by rail to the East Coast have to first be trucked West to the nearest transload facility in Wallula, Wash., before beginning their journey East, Washington onion shippers beat their Idaho and Oregon competitors to the market at every turn, Rodriguez said.

“Because we’ll be able to get to the market sooner, that will open up more markets for us,” he said of the planned transload facility, which would be built near Ontario or Nyssa.

The Oregon Legislature’s recently passed $5.3 billion transportation bill includes $26 million for the transload facility, which will allow shipping containers to be transferred between truck and rail.

Freight rates change constantly and are impacted by many factors, but “it is fair to estimate a transload facility (here) would provide an avenue to ship more onion volume via rail out of our growing region at a cost savings versus trucking, and faster than traditional rail service,” said Tiffany Cruickshank, transportation manager for Snake River Produce.

In an email, she told Capital Press that the facility would be “transformational for our area and will ideally allow Snake River Produce and other area shippers to maintain and improve competitiveness, reduce transportation costs and grow business throughout the rail network.”

Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, vice-co-chair of the 14-member committee that put the transportation bill together, told onion growers and shippers last week that the money for the transload facility could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he said it’s critical for the community to do it right.

He said the facility could benefit a lot of farm commodities grown in the region but that it would focus on the onion industry.

The legislation that provides the $26 million for the facility requires the community to submit a plan to the Oregon Transportation Commission by Jan. 1, 2020, that shows how it intends to spend the money.

One of the most important first steps is for the onion industry to form a committee that can offer significant input on the plan and help guide its formation, Bentz said.

Grant Kitamura, general manager of Murakami Produce, an onion shipper, told Capital Press the onion industry has already formed a group that will meet and begin formulating possible plans for the facility.

“We’re going to get the ball rolling on this and get it done right,” he said.

19-year-old firefighter killed by falling tree in Montana

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A 19-year-old firefighter died after being struck by a falling tree while responding to a small blaze in western Montana, officials said Thursday.

Trenton Johnson, a Missoula resident, was a member of a 20-person attack crew for a Merlin, Oregon-based private firefighting contractor called Grayback Forestry Inc., Grayback and Missoula County Sheriff’s Office officials said.

Johnson and nine other members of his crew were called in Wednesday afternoon to help U.S. Forest Service firefighters responding to a lightning-caused fire burning about a half-acre along a ridge near Florence Lake in Lolo National Forest, northeast of Seeley Lake.

They had just arrived when the top of a tree split off and fell toward four firefighters, striking Johnson, Grayback President Mike Wheelock said in a news conference.

“They just heard a crack and that was it,” Wheelock said. “Three of them were able to get out of the way and Trenton did not.”

Johnson was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Missoula, where he was pronounced dead, said Missoula County sheriff’s spokeswoman Brenda Bassett.

The rest of the Grayback crew was pulled from the fire, Lolo National Forest spokesman Boyd Hartwig said.

Johnson graduated from Hellgate High School in Missoula, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and a captain of the lacrosse team that won the state championship all four years he played.

“He was my favorite player that I ever coached,” former Hellgate lacrosse coach Kevin Flynn told the Missoulian. “He turned into a great player, a great teammate and a captain for us. He was well-liked by everybody.”

Johnson was attending Montana State University with several of his high school teammates, Flynn said.

Johnson was new to firefighting, and the Montana fire was only his second, the Missoulian reported.

Grayback spokeswoman Kelli Matthews said Johnson had completed all of his training, which included 40 hours of classroom time, up to six hours of field training and a physical fitness test.

At least a dozen large fires have ignited across Montana amid a heat wave that has dried out timber and grasslands. National Weather Service officials said gusting wind and low humidity will mean critical fire conditions are likely to continue through Friday evening.

Cascade-Siskiyou Monument Divide On Display During Zinke Visit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Opponents of expanding the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon say the move was rushed through with little public notice. Supporters point to a series of well-attended public meetings and a comment period in which more than 5,000 written comments were received.

But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s visit to the monument last weekend showed that the community divide over the monument is far from resolved.

Last October, just a couple of weeks before the presidential election, more than 400 people crammed into an auditorium at Southern Oregon University in Ashland to offer their opinions on the proposal to expand the nearby Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Biologist Pepper Trail was on the science team that had studied the monument and recommended roughly doubling its size to nearly 130,000 acres.

“Based on a foundation of solid science,” he said, “now is the time for the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument to enable spatially comprehensive, cohesive and consistent protection of this unique and precious landscape.”

The science team concluded the monument wasn’t large enough to safeguard the exceptional biodiversity at the convergence of the Klamath, Siskiyou and Cascade mountain ranges. The monument was created in 2000 by President Bill Clinton expressly to protect that biodiversity.

While most in the SOU auditorium last fall supported the expansion, Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams spoke for many when he said expansion would hinder ranching, farming, timber harvest and recreation.

“As a citizen and as a Klamath County commissioner,” he said, “I’ve consistently opposed this ever-increasing overreach from our state and federal governments.”

Most of Oregon’s statewide elected officials — as well as city councils in Ashland and Talent — spoke in support, while commissioners in Jackson, Klamath and Siskiyou counties opposed the expansion.

In January, barely a week before leaving office, President Barack Obama added nearly 48,000 acres to the monument, about 20 percent less than had been proposed.

A group of 17 western Oregon counties sued, as did a pair of timber companies, saying the expansion illegally limited logging on public land.

Fast forward to mid-July: President Trump tasked Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, to review 27 national monuments established by previous administrations with an eye toward scaling back or revoking them.

He’d arrived in southern Oregon to tour Cascade-Siskiyou and to confer with stakeholder groups. After hiking a trail and meeting with snowmobilers, Zinke stood near Hyatt Lake with Rep. Greg Walden and gave clues about how he’s approaching his review.

“I think that going forward, the biodiversity — the protection of the biodiversity — can and should be done incorporating traditional use, based on best science, based on good practices,” he said.

By “traditional use,” Zinke means not only commercial uses such as logging and grazing, but recreational uses such as snowmobiles.

That was a big concern for 82-year-old Doyle Hutchison. He told Zinke elderly people who can’t hike or ride horseback anymore don’t have access to the monument.

“We used to be able to drive in there with our four-wheelers or whatever,” he said. “And now, it’s all … They got everything gated up and cameras all over the place.”

Medford resident Cliff Massey told Zinke public land should be open to everybody.

“With the monument, it’s not for everybody. Because I won’t be able to snowmobile no more here because it’ll be cut off,” he said.

The next day, about 200 monument supporters set up a party, complete with live music and barbecue, in the parking lot of the federal office building in Medford where Zinke was meeting with a pro-monument contingent. A smaller group of opponents was there, as well. Emerging from that meeting, Lanita Witt said Zinke seemed inclined to defer to traditional land management values, which frustrated her.

“It is not the same,” she said. “The world is changing. And the vision needs to change of how do we take care of the earth.”

Witt co-owns Willow-Witt Ranch, a 440-acre property that lies within the monument expansion. She said she and her business partners have been restoring woodlands and wetland on the property for more than 30 years and feels the monument should reflect that approach.

Dave Willis was also in that meeting. Willis heads the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, which works to preserve land in and around the monument. He thinks Zinke’s meeting schedule gave an indication of where the administration’s priorities lie.

“Congressman Walden, and the timber people and the grazing people and others I think got a lot more time than the pro-monument people were given, by far,” he said.

Zinke has already announced he’ll suggest no changes to the Hanford Reach monument in Washington and the Craters of the Moon monument in Idaho. He’ll make his recommendations to President Trump on Cascade-Siskiyou and the other monuments he’s reviewing in late August.

Legal experts are divided on whether the president has the legal authority to repeal or modify monuments declared by previous presidents. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has warned Zinke that if the administration tries it with Cascade-Siskiyou, she stands ready to challenge that in court.

Interior: No changes needed to Colorado national monument

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he is removing Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients from a list of national monuments being reviewed nationwide.

Zinke said Friday that when he and President Donald Trump launched the review of 27 national monuments designated by previous administrations, “we absolutely realized that not all monuments are the same and that not all monuments would require modifications.”

Zinke called Canyons of the Ancients “gorgeous land,” but said its Native American archaeological sites were even more important. The site spans thousands of years, and Zinke said federal protections “will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years.”

Last week, Zinke removed two other monuments, in Idaho and Washington state, from his review of monuments created since 1996. A full report is due next month.


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