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Farm impacts impede landfill expansion

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A controversial proposal to expand a landfill on farmland in Oregon’s Yamhill County has been dealt a setback due to an adverse land use ruling.

Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals found that, in approving the proposal, the county government improperly shifted the burden to farmers to prove they’d be harmed by the 29-acre expansion.

Due to this error, LUBA has now sent the approval decision back to Yamhill County for reconsideration.

Under Oregon law, certain non-farm uses such as landfills can only be approved if they don’t “force a significant change” in farm practices on surrounding farmland.

In this case, LUBA found that the county incorrectly discounted evidence of harm from the Riverbend landfill on properties beyond one mile from the facility.

The county also erred by disregarding evidence of bird damage because the farmers didn’t quantify the amount of destruction, LUBA said.

It’s up to landfill’s owner — Waste Management — to prove the harm isn’t significant, but the county didn’t fault the company for not quantifying the extent of damage from birds attracted to the facility, the ruling said.

Similarly, LUBA said the county insufficiently considered the impacts of wind carrying plastic bags and other trash from the landfill onto nearby fields, complicating hay baling.

The county also should have considered the negative effects of noise on a nearby pheasant farm as well as “odor and visual impacts” on farm stands and other direct marketing operations, LUBA said.

Ramsey McPhillips, a landowner and longtime opponent of the landfill, said the LUBA decision is a victory because Oregon’s environmental regulators can’t permit the expansion until Yamhill County revises its findings or the ruling is reversed on appeal.

It will be difficult for the county’s commissioners to again ignore evidence of harm to farmers, but if they do, opponents will again challenge the approval, he said.

“We’re not going to give up. We’re going to just keep going and going and going,” McPhillips said.

The best case scenario for opponents would be if Yamhill County turned down the expansion proposal, especially since the legal controversy is prompting landfill customers to examine other dumping options, he said.

“The tide has turned more in that direction,” he said.

Waste Management noted that LUBA rejected most of the “assignments of error” alleged by the opponents, which “shows we are on the right track,” said Jackie Lang, senior communications manager for the company, in an email.

The finding on farm impacts indicates LUBA want more information, but Waste Management hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal that aspect of the ruling, she said.

“We are reviewing the decision now to understand the full intent and determine our next steps,” Lang said. “There have been many steps to this process over the last seven years. We are continue to look forward and take it one step at a time.”

Tim Sadlo, the county’s general counsel, said the commissioners have until Dec. 1 to decide whether to challenge LUBA’s ruling before the Oregon Court of Appeals, but such an outcome isn’t likely.

The ruling held that Yamhill County did not misconstrue land use law by allowing a landfill in a farm zone, which a major point in favor of the county, Sadlo said.

As for the county’s analysis of farm impacts, “that’s the kind of thing that can usually be cured on a remand,” he said.

Irrigation districts modernize with hydropower

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Sisters, Ore. — A key part of Marc Thalacker’s original job description was drying up the stream from which his irrigation district drew water.

Entirely drying up Whychus Creek in summer ensured growers within the Three Sisters Irrigation District got as much water as possible, but by the late 1990s, it was clear the practice was bound to come under regulatory scrutiny, said Thalacker, the district’s manager.

Steelhead and bull trout were gaining federal protections as threatened species, and it appeared likely the district would face problems under the Endangered Species Act, he said.

“Why wait for the regulatory hammer when you can get out in front of it?” Thalacker said.

At the same time, the irrigation system was inefficient: Of the 35,000 acre feet of water diverted by the district, only 17,000 acre feet were delivered to farmers, he said. “The rest would seep into the ground through our leaky canals.”

Since then, the district has replaced 50 miles of its 63 miles of canals with high-density plastic pipes. When the system is fully piped in about five years, the rate of water loss will fall to 10 percent, down from more than 50 percent with canals.

Farmers are now able to get more water while diverting less from the creek.

Piping provides additional benefits: The irrigation system is pressurized by gravity, which allows farmers to stop pumping and thus save electricity. Last year, the district also installed a hydropower turbine that generates more than 3 million kilowatt hours a year, or enough to power 75 homes.

Money generated from selling electricity will help pay off loans taken out for the piping project. Meanwhile, the district plans to install four smaller turbines next year as part of a demonstration project for growers and invest in a second large turbine by 2020.

While the $2 million cost of the first turbine was heavily subsidized with grants from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Energy Trust of Oregon, a non-profit funded by state ratepayers, Thalacker expects such projects will one day pencil out financially on their own.

As Pacificorp and other major power utilities reduce their reliance on coal burning over the next decade, electricity rates are expected to rise and make such renewable energy projects economically feasible, he said.

“When we’re burning a lot less coal, this will make a lot more sense,” Thalacker said.

Three Sisters Irrigation District is one of seven districts in Oregon that have retrofit their systems to generate hydropower, and another six are examining the possibility as part of broader modernization efforts, said Jed Jorgensen, renewable energy program coordinator at the Energy Trust of Oregon non-profit.

“It is an idea that is just starting to take off,” Jorgensen said.

Hydropower turbines are often associated with piping projects, particularly when a system doesn’t have a sudden drop in elevation — in such cases, pipes are necessary to build enough pressure to power the turbine, he said. For a hydropower turbine to make sense, there has to be enough spare pressure in a system beyond what farmers need to eliminate pumps.

“You don’t want hydropower to be in conflict with how farmers get their water,” Jorgensen said.

Energy Trust of Oregon funds such hydropower retrofits that are on the verge of being financially viable but can’t quite make it on their own, he said.

Even when the revenues from hydropower alone may not make a project attractive enough, districts and ditch companies are drawn to other advantages of irrigation modernization, such as reduced electricity use from pressurization, decreased costs for upkeeping canals and fewer environmental headaches, Jorgensen said.

“That water savings is worth a lot of money and is a tremendous environmental benefit,” he said.

Aside from economic factors, the technology is more accessible because recent legislation has removed regulatory barriers to installing hydropower turbines, said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, a group that advocates for irrigators.

In 2013, two bills — House Resolutions 267 and 678 — were passed into law, which streamlined the federal government’s approval of small hydropower facilities, Keppen said.

Previously, hydropower retrofits were lumped in with larger projects even though they modified existing irrigation systems and had no environmental impact, he said.

The time and expense of obtaining permitting was often greater than building the project itself, but now many of these impediments have been removed, Keppen said.

Irrigation systems across the West are often reliant on gravity, with water being pulled from behind a dam or distributed by flowing from higher to lower elevations, so they’re already designed to accommodate hydropower, he said.

“You’re going to have Mother Nature on your side,” Keppen said.

BLM begins rehabilitating Soda Fire area

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Land management officials say they have begun reseeding the giant burned area along the Idaho-Oregon border where a wildfire scorched valuable sage grouse habitat and grasslands needed by ranchers.

KIVI-TV reports that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has started drilling grass, forbs and shrub seeds into the ground. The agency plans on dispersing 2.4 million pounds of seed.

Cindy Fritz, a natural resource specialist for the BLM, says that reseeding will help reduce the spread of invasive grass species. However, she added that it will take at least 15 years for the area to return to normal.

The fire earlier this summer charred a 443-square-mile area, often fueled by invasive cheatgrass and burning up to 125 square miles in a day. It easily leapt fire lines put down by retardant bombers.

Oregon takes wolves off the state endangered species list

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM – After nearly 11 hours of emotional testimony, back and forth discussion and two timeouts for legal advice from a state attorney, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 Monday to take gray wolves off the state endangered species list.

In making the decision, commission members agreed with an ODFW staff appraisal that the state’s wolves have expanded in number and range to the point that they no longer need protection under the state Endangered Species Act.

Oregon’s wolves remain covered under the federal ESA in the western two-thirds of the state, and ODFW officials say the state wolf management plan remains in effect and will protect wolves from illegal hunting.

The decision doesn’t close the book on Oregon’s work to manage wolves. Some commission members made it clear they preferred to delist wolves only in the eastern third of the state, where most of Oregon’s 82 confirmed wolves live, but were prevented from doing so by language in the state law.

Meanwhile, conservation groups are expected to file a lawsuit over the commission’s decision.

“I think that’s very likely,” said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity. “I think they’re in violation of the law. They didn’t pay attention to the science.”

Conservation groups believe Oregon’s wolf population is too small and too fragile to delist, and is present in only 12 percent of its potential territory.

“There’s no other species we would delist when it’s absent from almost 90 percent of its habitat,” Weiss said.

Oregon’s ranchers, who had urged the ODFW commission to follow the guidelines of the wolf plan and the recommendations of the department’s biologists, cheered the decision.

“I’m relieved,” said Todd Nash, wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “This sends a message to cattle producers that the ODFW Commission will stand by its commitment.”

Nash said ranchers would not have supported a partial delisting.

“When we were paying the price (of livestock attacks) in Eastern Oregon, we fully believed we were doing it for the whole state,” Nash said. “And we were proud to do it.”

More than 150 people packed the ODFW hearing room and 106 signed up to testify. Activists opposed to delisting wolves, many of them wearing matching orange T-shirts, made up a majority of the audience. A sprinkling of men in cowboy hats – Eastern Oregon cattle ranchers who have borne the stress and cost of wolf attacks on livestock – clustered on one side of the hearing room.

The testimony echoed the arguments that have been made since Oregon’s wolf population reached the number of breeding pairs that trigger consideration of delisting under the management plan.

Conservation groups and their allied argue that the state’s biological status report on wolves was flawed and should have been peer-reviewed by other scientists. ODFW staff belatedly circulated the report to biologists they knew, but conservationists said that was insufficient.

“If this commission chooses to delist it will make a very sad and powerful statement about who and what it serves,” said Jonathan Jelen, development director for the conservation group Oregon Wild.

Livestock producers, however, argued they’d followed the wolf plan in good faith and expected the ODFW Commission to to the same.

“Oregon ranchers honored their obligation to follow the plan,” said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. “This is one of the reasons wolves multiplied in our state.”

ODFW Commission will decide today whether to delist wolves

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — A packed meeting room is expected today as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission decides whether to remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species law.

Livestock producers strongly favor the idea and conservation groups are just as deeply opposed, and a full day of emotional, conflicting testimony is likely. The wolf delisting is the only item on the commission’s agenda.

State wildlife biologists recommend delisting wolves. Under the state’s wolf recovery plan, the commission can take wolves off the endangered list if they determine:

Wolves aren’t in danger of extinction in any portion of their range; their natural reproductive potential is not in danger of failing; there’s no imminent or active deterioration of their range or primary habitat; the species or its habitat won’t be “over-utilized” for scientific, recreational, commercial or educational reasons; and existing state or federal regulations are adequate to protect them.

Conservation groups aligned as the Pacific Wolf Coalition have described the staff recommendation as flawed. They believe state law requires that the study be peer reviewed by other scientists. The coalition includes Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Center for Biological Diversity.

If the ODFW commission agrees with the staff recommendation, it would mean wolves in the eastern third of the state are not protected under either state or federal endangered species laws. Federal ESA protection would still be in force in Oregon west of Highways 395, 78 and 95.

Delisting wouldn’t mean open season on wolves in Eastern Oregon, however. The state wolf plan would remain in force, and it allows ODFW-approved “controlled take,” or killing, of wolves in cases of chronic livestock attacks or if wolves cause a decline in prey populations, chiefly elk and deer. Ranchers, as they can now, would be able to shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock or herd dogs. None have been killed in that manner.

Oregon’s wolf plan does not allow sport hunting of wolves in any phase of the recovery timeline, department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

Oregon has 82 confirmed wolves. The number stood at 85 in July, but the Sled Springs pair was found dead of unknown cause in Wallowa County, and a man hunting coyotes shot a lone wolf, OR-22, in Grant County. ODFW’s wolf program coordinator, Russ Morgan, estimates Oregon has 90 to 100 wolves and said the population might reach 150 within three years.

OSU adds distilled spirits teacher and researcher

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Paul Hughes jokes that he hasn’t caused an accident on the road yet. So far, so good, when you’re accustomed to driving on the left in Great Britain and have to adjust to American traffic patterns.

When it comes to making whiskey, vodka and other distilled spirits, however, Hughes will be happy to share his way of doing things.

Hughes, a chemist who spent the past 10 years teaching at a university in Scotland, has been hired as a researcher and instructor at Oregon State University’s Fermentation Center. The program teaches students how to make wine, beer and cheese, and is branching out into the fast-growing distilled spirits industry.

According to OSU, distilled spirits made in Oregon now account for $69 million in gross annual sales, nearly 13 percent of the state’s liquor revenue. Oregon has close to 80 distilleries, up from 12 eight years ago, said Christie Scott, spokeswoman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Hughes said one of his priorities is to meet with distillers and establish good relations with the industry.

Hughes also is setting up the first distilling course, which will be offered in January.

“There’s a lot of commonality around the fermenting techniques used in brewing, wine-making and distilled spirits production,” he said in an OSU news release. “But distilling requires additional steps. So there will be a need for additional courses about those techniques.”

Hughes most recently taught and did research at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland,

At OSU, the fermentation sciences program is part of the Food Science and Technology department.

The Oregon Legislature provided money for the distilled spirits position on campus.

Chelsea Clinton touts her book, calls on kids to eat right

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — Visiting this foodie city to promote her book and to learn about food system changes, Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of one president and potentially a second, declined to delve into her mom’s ideas on agriculture.

Clinton, daughter of Bill Clinton, the 42nd U.S. president and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who seeks the 2016 Democratic Party’s nomination, suggested people visit her mother’s website for her views on agriculture. Hillary Clinton, the former senator and Secretary of State, has been spending time in Iowa, a key primary state and where farming is “hugely important,” Chelsea Clinton noted.

She said her mother helped start a micro-financing program in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor, and the first clients were small farmers.

Chelsea Clinton didn’t mention it, but her mother has another agricultural connection in Iowa. In August, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Vilsack has been mentioned as a possible vice president pick, but downplayed that during a visit to Portland in August. Vilsack said he simply believed Clinton is the best candidate.

The younger Clinton, who spent her teenage years in the White House, is 35 now, married and has a 13-month-old daughter. It was while pregnant that she became more acutely aware of the world her daughter and other children will inherit.

Clinton said proper nutrition and exercise are crucial for young people.

“When I was in public school in Little Rock (Arkansas), we had P.E. every single day,” Clinton said. Now, fewer than 10 percent of school children have gym every day, she said, and recess has “largely gone away.”

Clinton’s book, “It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!” details some of the world’s problems and shares stories of young people who are helping their communities find solutions.

Clinton said her first turn as an activist came when she was a youngster and learned wildlife sometimes choked on discarded plastic beverage container rings. She began “obsessively” cutting them up — “Which I still do,” she said — and convinced her classmates to do the same.

Clinton spoke Nov. 5 at Ecotrust, a Portland nonprofit that researches and seeks sustainable solutions in farming, forestry and economics. Among other things, the organization produced a report this year on problems hindering “Ag of the Middle,” the small- to mid-size producers and processors who are too big to survive by selling at farmers’ markets but too small to compete in the commodities markets.

At Ecotrust, Clinton heard a three-member panel detail work they’re doing to ensure nutritious local food finds its way to schools and to programs that serve needy populations. About two dozen children were in the audience, in addition to adults.

Clinton was introduced by Amanda Oborne, Ecotrust’s vice president of food and farms, who told students in the audience that the “food system riddle” would be theirs to solve.

“The food system you’re inheriting is kind of a mess,” she said.

Children today, when they become adults, will figure out how to feed 9 billion people, adapt to a changing climate and engage in farming, ranching and fishing techniques that replenish natural resources, Oborne said.


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