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Oregon refuge defendant seeks to withdraw guilty plea

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Arizona man is the latest Oregon standoff figure to ask for his guilty plea to be withdrawn.

Joseph O’Shaughnessy pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge nearly three months before a jury acquitted seven of his co-defendants, including standoff leader Ammon Bundy.

O’Shaughnessy is awaiting trial on accusations stemming from a 2014 standoff with government authorities at the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville, Nev.

Defense attorney Tony Schwartz wrote Sunday that O’Shaughnessy had a plea deal in Nevada, but it was contingent on him pleading guilty in Oregon. Because the plea offer fell apart, his client should be able to withdraw his Oregon plea.

When he pleaded guilty in Portland, O’Shaughnessy said he didn’t participate in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, but felt a duty to provide security for the protesters.

Two other defendants have sought to withdraw their pleas. The judge has yet to rule on their requests.

Portland’s urban coyotes become a university research project

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — Coyotes are a fairly common sight in rural areas of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, and landowners might instinctively reach for the rifle if they see one in the pasture or sniffing around the barn.

Put a coyote in a city, however, and residents are more likely to react in a way that ranges from trying to feed them to panicking over their pets and children. Coyotes sometimes lose their heads as well, becoming so habituated to people and urban environments that they trot down streets in broad daylight and snack on garbage or the occasional cat.

Many cities, Portland among them, now are home to thriving coyote populations. Researchers in Chicago a few years ago estimated Cook County there had 1,500 to 2,000 coyotes.

Zuriel Rasmussen, a student at Portland State University, is trying to learn more about how coyotes and humans coexist in cities. Rasmussen is a researcher and director of the Portland Urban Coyote Project, which maps coyote sightings and provides information in collaboration with the Audubon Society of Portland.

Rasmussen is pursuing a Ph.D in Earth, Environment and Society, a program offered through PSU’s Geography Department. She’s interested in science communication and public engagement, and the coyote project offers opportunities for both.

She comes at it from a rural perspective. She lived in Weston, near Pendleton in Eastern Oregon, until she was 12. Coyotes were part of the landscape there, and she was startled the first time she saw one in Portland.

“I was one of those East Oregonians surprised to see a coyote,” she said. “I thought it was pretty cool. I was fascinated with how they were living in the city and how that’s even possible.”

The possible now is commonplace. Residents of the Portland metro area have reported 1,916 coyote sightings to Rasmussen’s project website just this year. Coyote calls keep USDA’s APHIS Wildlife Services hopping as well: From 2012 through 2015, officers responded to an average of 373 coyote “conflict” complaints in Clackamas County, which borders Portland, and killed an average of 30 a year, according to statistics provided by Kevin Christensen, of the Wildlife Services office in Portland.

Wildlife Services responded to an average of 222 coyote conflicts a year in Washington County, on Portland’s westside, and killed an average of 15 a year during the same time frame. Wildlife Services does not have a cooperative service agreement with Multnomah County, which covers most of Portland, but killed three coyotes that were acting aggressively toward people and pets.

Of the Clackamas County coyote complaints, 56 percent involved damage or threat of damage to agriculture. In Washington County, 54 percent of the coyote conflicts involved agriculture, according to statistics provided by Christensen.

At PSU, Rasmussen’s studies over the past couple years have shown the urban and rural divide plays out with coyotes as it does with many other issues. Some Eastern Oregon residents have posted graphic YouTube videos about hunting coyotes, complete with slow-motion replays of bullets hitting coyotes at long range.

Portlanders’ reaction to the presence of coyotes appears to range from neutral to positive, Rasmussen said. Although concerned about coyotes attacking pets, they’re generally supportive of coyotes and opposed to lethal control.

“One of the big things I’ve found is that the impact coyotes have on your life bears a lot on your attitude,” she said. In rural areas, they’ve been vilified — along with wolves — as something that threatens people’s livelihoods, particularly with livestock, she said.

In cities, they’re not seen as a threat to the way people make a living. Instead, they are “a glimpse of the wild in an urban environment, which is a different experience than seeing a coyote near your sheep pasture.”

Analysis of urban coyote scat shows their diet is primarily rats, mice, squirrels and rabbits, “pretty similar to a rural coyote,” Rasmussen said. They eat more garbage than their rural cousins, and about 1 to 2 percent of their diet is cats.

“They’re super opportunistic,” she said.

Part of her work involves advising city residents what to do when they see a coyote. She said urban coyotes can become habituated to humans, and people should “retrain” them to be wary. She recommends “hazing” them by yelling, using an air horn, shaking a coffee can full of rocks or other methods. People obviously shouldn’t feed coyotes, either directly or by leaving pet food or garbage accessible, and should keep a close eye on pets, she said.

“When they get used to being around people, those are the coyotes that cause problems,” she said.

Bond Starker, head of Oregon timber company Starker Forests, announces his retirement

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Capital Press

Starker Forests Inc., the Corvallis-based company that began with an Oregon State University forestry professor who saw the value of buying cut-over timberland in the wake of the Depression, is looking for a new CEO.

Bond Starker, president and chairman and one of the founder’s grandsons, said he will retire in April, when he turns 70. The company is advertising for a CEO, most likely to bridge the gap until the next generation of Starkers — potentially his children and those of his brother, Barte — is in position to assume control. Barte Starker retired in 2015.

In a prepared statement, Bond Starker said he’s looking forward to seeing the next generation continue to implement the vision, values and ingenuity that made the company successful.

“That’s a value that our family has maintained for decades — from our forestry practice to our commitment to this community — we’re in it for the long haul, and that won’t change,” he said.

The company owns 87,000 acres of timber in Benton, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Polk counties and survived Oregon’s timber wars with its reputation intact. The company didn’t venture into the more volatile milling side of the business, instead focusing on growing and selling timber as logging on public forests was restricted by environmental decisions and lawsuits.

The company developed from the foresight of T.J. Starker, Bond and Barte’s grandfather, who in 1910 was one of the first four graduates from the forestry program at Oregon Agricultural College, now OSU. T.J. Starker returned to the college as a forestry professor in 1922 and taught for 20 years. He began buying second-growth timberland in 1936, specifically seeking land with no snags on the ridges, gentle terrain and good drainage, according to an online family history. At the time, few in the timber industry realized that Oregon’s old-growth timber would become a reduced commodity.

T.J.’s son, Bruce Starker, also an OSU forestry grad, took over the company but died in a plane crash in 1975.

“Barte and I were accelerated into positions of responsibility,” Bond Starker said in an interview.

Rather than operate mills and deal with a large workforce, the company has remained a streamlined timber-growing operation. It has about 20 full-time employees, many of whom have worked for Starker Forests for decades, and typically takes on 10 to 12 summer interns.

The company has made a point of reducing financial risk by “mostly using our own money,” Bond Starker said. “It’s kept us slow and steady, I guess.”

The company has deep social, charitable and professional ties in Corvallis, Philomath and at Oregon State University, where among other gifts it supports the College of Forestry’s annual Starker Lecture Series. The community has been “awfully good” to the company, Starker said, and the company wants to return the favor.

He said the next CEO should, “Do your best to stay current on the issues, be knowledgeable on subject areas you deal with, share information among the team and listen for other ideas.”


The Starker Forests job posting: http://www.starkerforests.com/jobs/ceo/

Final analysis recommends deregulation of GE bentgrass

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — The Center for Food Safety has blasted a final environmental impact statement that recommends deregulation of a genetically engineered creeping bentgrass that escaped field trials in 2003 and has taken root in Malheur and Jefferson counties in Oregon.

It was being developed by Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. and Monsanto Corp. for use mainly on golf courses. Since the escapes, Scotts has been responsible for controlling and eradicating it where possible.

Scotts and Monsanto petitioned USDA to deregulate the bentgrass, which was genetically engineered to withstand applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer.

A final EIS released by USDA Dec. 7 recommends deregulation of the genetically engineered creeping bentgrass because it “is unlikely to pose a plant pest risk....”

Some farmers and water manages in the affected counties worry that because the bentgrass is resistant to glyphosate and difficult to kill, it could clog irrigation ditches and affect shipments of hay and other crops to nations that don’t accept traces of genetically modified organisms.

The Center for Food Safety criticized the final EIS, saying it will result in USDA relinquishing all authority over the GE grass and lay the burden for controlling it on farmers and other landowners.

“USDA’s approval of this genetically engineered grass is as dangerous as it is unlawful,” CFS Senior Attorney George Kimbrell said in a news release. “The agency is giving Monsanto and Scotts a free pass for the harm their product has already caused farmers and the environment and is irresponsibly gambling future harm on nothing more than their empty promises.”

Sid Abel, assistant deputy director of USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services, said a final decision has not been made on the petition for deregulation. A 30-day public viewing period follows release of the EIS and a final determination by the secretary of agriculture won’t be made until that time has passed.

He said it is incorrect to state that commercial approval of the bentgrass has been granted, as is stated in the CFS news release.

“That is an incorrect statement,” Abel said. “This process has not been completed.”

Kimbrell said it’s a technicality to say a final decision hasn’t been made.

“It’s called a final EIS because it’s final,” he said. “For all intents and purposes, the decision was made yesterday. That’s not going to change.”

Scotts reached a 10-year agreement with USDA last October that critics say allows the company to essentially walk away from any responsibility for controlling the plant in a few years.

As part of the agreement, Scotts and Monsanto agreed not to commercialize or further propagate the plant in the future.

Farmer Jerry Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County Weed Board and one of the most vocal critics of the agreement, said deregulation of the creeping bentgrass will shift the onus for controlling it from Scotts to landowners.

“This smells so bad,” he said about the final EIS. “They just dumped it all on the landowner.”

Both Scotts and USDA officials have told Capital Press the 10-year agreement does not allow the company to walk away from its responsibility, and Abel said deregulation of the plant would have no impact on the agreement.

Fuel breaks to limit rangeland fires proposed in 3 states

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A proposed fuel break system in southwest Idaho, southeast Oregon and northern Nevada will limit the size of destructive rangeland wildfires and protect habitat for sage grouse, say officials with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The agency on Tuesday released a plan called the Tri-State Fuel Break Project, which would create gaps in combustible vegetation along existing roads on public lands in the three states by reducing fuel next to the roads, using either machines or chemical treatments, and maintained with a long-term schedule.

Fuel breaks would be developed on about 5,600 square miles in Idaho and Oregon that could be tied in with fuel breaks in Nevada. The agency said it has identified about 1,600 miles of roads that could be part of the fuel break system.

The agency is preparing an environmental impact statement, and is taking public comments on the plan through Feb. 3

The area contains one of the largest intact strongholds for greater sage grouse in the northern Great Basin, officials said, but faces wildfire threats from invasive annual grasses, notably fire-prone cheatgrass.

Officials say the region is prone to summer lightning storms that cause simultaneous wildfires that can use up limited wildfire fighting resources, increasing the chances that some wildfires will get out of control. Such a wildfire in 2015 scorched about 436 square miles of sagebrush steppe in Idaho and Oregon that supports cattle grazing and some 350 species of wildlife, including sage grouse. The burned area is now the focus of a 5-year, $67 million rehabilitation effort.

“The mega-fires, it’s the new normal,” said Larry Moore, a BLM spokesman for Oregon’s Vale District. “Longer fire season, extended drought in many of the most vulnerable areas. We’re very much hoping to mitigate the size and severity of these fires.”

Ken Cole of Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project said the environmental group hadn’t had time to fully go over the plan but had some initial concerns. Among them is that the fuel breaks would be planted with forage grasses for cattle instead of native plants, that improvements to roads would increase the number of human visitors and result in more wildfires, and that the federal agency would have to use herbicide to maintain the fuel breaks.

“They’re going to have a lot of problems to deal with once they start down this road,” he said.

Sage grouse are ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds found in 11 Western states, where between 200,000 to 500,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million. They depend on sagebrush for food year-round, and hens nest underneath the plants. Tall native grasses help screen the hens and their eggs and chicks from predators.

The federal government has been working to protect that habitat to avoid an Endangered Species Act listing for the greater sage grouse, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell issued a secretarial order in early 2015 calling for a “science-based” approach to safeguard the bird.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the bird last year, noting ongoing conservation efforts, but will review the bird’s status within five years.

John Freemuth, a public lands policy expert and Boise State University professor, said there’s an urgency to the fuel break plan with a new administration coming in under President-elect Donald Trump that might not be as concerned about a potential sage grouse listing.

“The concern is that so much stuff gets burned up we have a listing and that changes the politics and relationships people have here in the West,” Freemuth said.

Fuel breaks to limit rangeland fires proposed in 3 states

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Federal officials are considering creating a fuel break system in southwest Idaho, southeast Oregon and northern Nevada to limit the size of destructive rangeland wildfires and protect habitat for sage grouse.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced Tuesday the 5,600-square-mile Tri-State Fuel Break Project proposed to create gaps in combustible vegetation along existing roads on public lands in the three states.

Officials say the area contains one of the largest intact strongholds for greater sage grouse in the northern Great Basin but faces wildfire threats from invasive annual grasses, notably fire-prone cheatgrass.

Sage grouse are ground-dwelling, chicken-sized birds found in 11 Western states, where between 200,000 to 500,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million.

Comments on the plan are being taken through Feb. 3.

Doverspikes carry on ranching tradition in E. Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BURNS, Ore. — Mark and Susan Doverspike and their son Steven run a cow-calf and yearling operation on a ranch that has been in the family for 128 years.

“Steven makes the fifth generation and we have a sixth generation coming on,” said Susan Doverspike.

“My great-great-grandfather and his two sons came to California from the East, then rode horseback through Oregon to Washington,” she said. “They picked out places near Burns and Lakeview to settle. Our side of the family ended up in Burns.”

The ranch sells some calves in the fall and holds some to sell as yearlings in July when the price is usually better, Mark Doverspike said. The cattle are Hereford-Angus crosses.

The region has good summer grass but winters are long. Native meadow grass is baled for winter feed, and regrowth provides fall pasture. In March the cattle go to sagebrush hills for calving, a healthier environment for the calves than wet meadows.

In late April the cattle go to Bureau of Land Management pastures that weren’t grazed the year before.

“We rotate between pastures every other year and are allowed to stock these pastures a little heavier because there’s more feed with a combination of the new grass and the old,” said Steven Doverspike.

“After that the cattle go up into forest pastures until late fall. Then we use a mountain ranch with native meadows where we rake-bunch hay for fall feed,” he said.

“When we rake-bunch hay into piles it preserves the protein level,” Susan said. “It’s more like a bale of hay than a windrow and not as subject to weathering.”

The cattle have the pastures and rake-bunch piles eaten by the time it snows, she said.

“Down at Burns we generally get about 2 feet of snow,” said Steven. “On the higher mountains the fences are covered. Usually we are feeding hay from December until late April.”

In spring, the yearlings are sent to one of their ranches near Riley, about 40 miles west of Burns, to graze and are ready to market in July. The good feed and genetics make it work.

“Susan does a great job with the genetics, picking out bulls that are growthy with good carcass and maternal traits,” said Mark. Most of the calves are crossbred.

It’s an interesting challenge, selecting genetics to fit environmental conditions.

“In this high desert we can’t have cows too big, or too high on milk production or they won’t stay in the herd,” Susan said. They may raise big calves but won’t breed back.

“This is a harsh environment. Our range pastures are rated as about 15 acres per cow per month,” Steven said.

Cattle move from pasture to pasture to higher elevation as summer progresses. The ranch meadows are over 4,000 feet and the range pastures go up to 6,000 feet.

The calves are sold through niche markets such as Country Natural Beef.

“Our oldest son, Donald, works for Western Video Market and Shasta Livestock Auction, so he helps with the marketing,” Susan said. “Our youngest son, Daniel, went to college at Eastern Oregon University, majoring in ag business.”

The Doverspikes value education and experience.

“One of the rules Mom and Dad set up for us boys was that in order to come back to the ranch we had to get an education — bachelor’s degree or higher,” Steven said, “The second rule is that we have to go work for somebody else for at least two years, to see if we really want to come back to the ranch or have a job we like better someplace else.”

He worked for JBS Five Rivers Feeding Co. and brought back a lot of feeding knowledge and experience.

“We’ve tweaked our feeds, and tried different things to see if we can do a better job of feeding the calves when we wean them, until they are shipped,” he said.

It’s been beneficial to expand their horizons and take advantage of additional knowledge, they agreed.

Analyst: Export market key to growth of Oregon microbreweries

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND – Van Havig, co-owner of Gigantic Brewing Co. on the city’s hipster-heavy east side, has an app on his phone that provides instantly updated currency exchange rates. The company, formed by Havig and Ben Love five years ago, sells 5 to 7 percent of its beer outside the country, primarily to Canada but a bit to Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The strong U.S. dollar makes Gigantic something of an expensive choice overseas.

Nonetheless, Gigantic is exactly the size of craft brewery — producing 4,000 to 5,000 barrels a year — that a state economic analyst says ought to be pushing hard on the export market to assure continued growth.

In remarks at the Oregon Brewers Guild’s annual meeting in Portland Nov. 30, analyst Josh Lehner said Oregon’s craft beer industry is slowing down after a decade in which the number of Oregon breweries grew from 76 in 2006 to 218 in 2016.

The beer market outlook has implications up and down the economic chain, from hops and barley farmers and malt producers to stainless steel fermentation tank manufacturers, tourism and dining.

Prospects remain good for neighborhood microbreweries, said Lehner, who works for the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.

“For these smaller breweries, I think the outlook is bright,” Lehner told brewery guild members. “The brewpub model works.”

He said demand is strong and there are still many parts of the state and country that are “under supplied” when it comes to neighborhood brewpubs. Maybe not on Portland’s east side, he added, but certainly in the suburbs.

Slightly bigger producers, however, are in fierce competition for a limited number of in-state tap handles and shelf space.

“Flagship” Oregon beers such as Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter, Widmer’s Hefeweisen and Ninkasi’s Total Domination can be found in bars and restaurants all over the state, Lehner said. The state’s five largest breweries now sell only 20 percent of their beer in Oregon, he said.

For medium- to large-size Oregon breweries, sales outside the state are a must, Lehner said. That’s complicated by the fact that the Pacific Northwest no longer has the market cornered on tasty, locally-sourced and locally-made microbrews. Good local beer can now be found all over the country, and consumers often prefer to support local businesses rather than out-of-state breweries.

International exports are a relatively untapped market, Lehner said.

“The path forward is really about reversing the Oregon Trail,” he said. “There is just too much competition and market saturation to be able to reach large production numbers by relying solely on Oregon consumers.”

Lehner said Pacific Rim nations are a good target market for Oregon beer, as they are for many other crops and food products.

About half of Oregon beer exports now go to Canada, 17 percent to Japan and about 5 percent each to China and South Korea, Lehner said. He acknowledged the strong U.S. dollar hurts sales: A $10 six-pack here costs $13 overseas. But Lehner said currency exchange rates often fluctuate, and a devalued dollar may serve as a market “tailwind” of Oregon beer.

Love, the Gigantic Brewing co-owner, agreed that targeting exports is a potentially good business model. Canada used to buy more when the exchange rate made Gigantic’s beer less expensive, he said.

In other remarks to the brewers’ guild, Lehner said job gains in the state’s alcohol cluster — beer, wine, hard cider and spirits — have outperformed the software sector, although the latter gets more media attention.

He said the Oregon brewing industry is important because it is value-added processing with good growth potential, money invested in it returns to state, and it is geographically more spread out than other industries.

Lehner said the Oregon Legislature increased the state lodging tax, and there will be $10 million more available annually for tourism and related activites. He said brewers should tap some of that to market their business.

He said “chatter” about the decline of national chain casual-dining restaurants doesn’t apply to brewpubs.

“I think it just means people don’t want to overpay for mediocre chain food,” he said. “I can get much better food at a lower price point from my neighborhood brewery.

“And of course you can’t even compare the tap lists,” he added.

Weed, predator funding on chopping block at ODA

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Funding for weed biocontrol and predator control is on the chopping block at the Oregon Department of Agriculture as the state prepares for a budget shortfall.

The agency plans to eliminate state funding for USDA’s Wildlife Services program, which kills coyotes and other predators that prey on livestock. The move would save more than $460,000.

The Wildlife Services program would still be administered by USDA in Oregon, but counties and landowners would need to pay more to maintain the current service level, said Lauren Henderson, assistant director at ODA.

A biocontrol staff position aimed at finding insects that consume invasive weeds would also be eliminated under ODA’s 2017-2019 biennial budget recently recommended by Gov. Kate Brown.

That position was vacated when the ODA’s previous biocontrol expert retired several months ago, so leaving it unfilled would save more than $250,000, said Henderson.

“We left that vacant in anticipation this might happen,” he said.

Dairies and other “confined animal feeding operations” would also face higher fees to compensate for a $250,000 cut to ODA’s CAFO inspection program.

The ODA and other state agencies are planning for program cuts because Oregon government is facing a budget deficit of more than $1.8 billion due to increasing pension and healthcare costs for state employees.

The changes were discussed at the Oregon Board of Agriculture’s Dec. 1 meeting in Wilsonville, Ore.

Under Brown’s recommendation, ODA’s total biennial budget would increase from about $111 million to $117 million.

However, the portion of ODA’s budget that comes from the general fund, which pays for specific programs, would drop about 5 percent, to $23.4 million.

Because the agency would need $25.8 million to maintain its current service level — due to increases in wages, pensions and healthcare costs — that leaves the ODA $2.4 million short of what’s needed to pay for the general fund programs.

While several agency programs are facing cuts, ODA expects to pay for others — including food safety and pesticide response programs — from fees it collects for services, rather than from the general fund.

The agency also plans to shift some programs from general fund dollars to money it receives from the federal government, though this scenario assumes the new presidential administration will provide the support, Henderson said.

ODA’s recommended budget is also contingent on lawmakers approving several new revenue sources proposed by Brown, he said.

Realistically, the recommended 2017-2019 budget is really a starting point for negotiations with lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session, said Lisa Hanson, ODA’s interim director.

“There’s a long road ahead,” she said.

Walden chosen to chair House Energy and Commerce Committee

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon has been elected to serve as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington, D.C.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the appointment will give Walden oversight of federal departments in charge of consumer protections, food and drug safety, public health, environmental quality and energy policy, among others.

The post also means Walden will be a key player in the debate over the fate of the Affordable Care Act, which President-elect Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have said will be repealed and replaced in the next Congressional session.

Walden said in a statement he’ll “focus on what’s best for consumers, on creating better paying jobs and providing patient-centered health care” in his new role.

Walden represents Oregon’s expansive 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of the electorate east of the Cascades as well as much of Southern Oregon.


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