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Oregon’s water perceptions need to change, top adviser says

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SUNRIVER, Ore. — Oregon has a public perception problem when it comes to water quality, said Richard Whitman, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s natural resources policy director.

Addressing foresters at the Oregon Forest Industries Council’s annual meeting here Oct. 12, Whitman said: “The public perception out there is that water quality is bad and it is getting worse.

“That is not true,” Whitman said.

“In actuality, since the passage of the (Estuaries and) Clean Water Act in 2000 … we’ve been pretty much stable. We haven’t gotten worse. In some places, it is getting a bit better. In some places it’s not. But there is this perception out there in the public that we have an enormous water quality problem in the state, and it is simply not the case,” Whitman said.

“The Northwest is also a breeding ground for litigators, unfortunately,” he said, “and that litigation also feeds this perception that we are not in good shape in terms of water quality.”

Whitman said the state also has a perception problem when it comes to water quantity.

“The problem in the land of water quantity is that we have plenty of water in Oregon and that we are not California,” Whitman said. “That is not really the reality, either.

“These public perceptions about where we are at as a state are in and of themselves a problem,” he said. “They make it difficult to build collaborative lasting solutions to real problems and, in order to work through that, we need to be thinking not just how to work through the substantive issues, but also how to bring the public along, so the public understands where we are truly at in terms of resource issues and can be part of the solution, rather than creating additional problems in terms of solutions.”

Whitman said that while water quality in Oregon is good, it could be better.

“It is not necessarily good enough for all the things that we want water to do,” he said. “It is not good enough in some places for our fisheries. In some places, we have issues with our drinking water.

“So there is still some progress to be made on water quality, even though we have made an enormous amount of progress already,” he said.

“Also, with warming temperature and less snowpack, we are facing water-quality challenges,” he said. “We saw that this year with a need for fish advisories on many of our streams in Oregon because of low flow and unusually high temperature.

“On the water quantity side, Oregon is blessed with abundant water, but with less snow and warmer temperatures, we have several problems. We have a storage problem,” he said. “Without the snowpack, we are losing that storage.”

Whitman said Brown was instrumental in advocating for passage of the $54 million package that lawmakers passed in the 2015 Legislature to fund water storage projects.

“The governor has followed that up with an executive order on drought, making sure that our Oregon agencies lead by example in terms of reducing their water use, and also putting in place a new Oregon drought plan so we are better prepared in the future for the type of summer we saw this past year,” Whitman said.

In an interview after his presentation, Whitman said he hopes to have some water-storage-project news in the near future.

Oregon hazelnut crop smaller than expected

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon’s hazelnut crop isn’t living up to expectations in terms of quantity, but high quality and strong demand are providing farmers with an upside.

The state was initially forecast to produce about 39,000 tons of hazelnuts in 2015, but with the harvest winding down, it looks as if the crop may come in below 37,000 tons, said Mike Klein, executive director of the Oregon Hazelnut Marketing Board.

“It looks to be short,” he said.

Multiple factors contribute to hazelnut yields, such as weather during the winter pollination season, Klein said.

This past winter was mild, which may have caused flowers to bloom either too early or too late for optimum pollination, he said.

When new orchards are planted, farmers now use more than one “pollenizer” variety to hedge against such an outcome, but older orchards often depend on a single variety for pollination, Klein said.

Eastern filbert blight, a fungal pathogen that affects hazelnuts, has also taken a toll on older orchards that aren’t resistant to the disease, said Tim Newkirk, CEO of Willamette Hazelnut Growers.

Increased prevalence of the disease also causes farmers to prune trees more aggressively, which decreases their capacity to produce nuts, he said. “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

Newkirk said it was unlikely that this summer’s dry conditions contributed much to the reduced crop, since there isn’t a large amount of nut shrinkage that’s usually associated with drought stress.

“Hazelnuts are a pretty hardy tree,” he said. “The quality looks really, really good.”

The dry weather has sped up the maturation of hazelnuts, with the harvest occurring several weeks ahead of the normal schedule.

While the harvest typically ends in November, this year it’s expected to be done by mid-October, said Newkirk. “Usually, that’s the heart of the battle there.”

Due to the lack of rain, hazelnuts are also coming in drier than average, which saves growers from paying as much for drying services when they bring their crop to receiving stations, said Klein.

Hazelnuts that have been rained upon generally consist of 20 percent moisture at harvest, but this year they’re in the low teens, or even the 10-11 percent moisture range, said Newkirk.

Drier nuts provide a food safety benefit, as bacteria and mold are likely to fester in moist conditions, said Jonathan Thompson, CEO of the Northwest Hazelnut Co.

“They’re harvested off the ground, so the drier, the better,” he said.

The initial field price that processors are paying farmers for hazelnuts is set at $1.22 per pound, which is the second-highest on record, said Klein.

Last year’s initial field price of $1.81 per pound was an anomaly caused by significantly lower yields in Turkey, the foremost hazelnut producer, he said. “That was the result of the extreme shortage of hazelnuts on the world market.”

Hazelnuts are a good long-term investment due to the strong, stable market for the crop, said Larry George, who owns George Packing Co. and the Northwest Hazelnut Co.

Oregon is the largest hazelnut-growing state in the U.S., but produces roughly 5 percent of the global crop, he said.

Meanwhile, global consumption of hazelnuts is rising six percent annually, George said. “The consumption is going up by the size of an Oregon crop every year.”

BLM computer used to impersonate former employee

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A U.S. Bureau of Land Management computer was apparently used to impersonate a former agency employee and disparage two Oregon ranchers recently sentenced to prison for arson.

The incident occurred after the Capital Press posted an online article about the five-year prison terms received by Dwight Lincoln Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, for fires set on BLM property near Diamond, Ore., in 2001 and 2006.

A person who identified as Greg Allum posted three comments on the article, calling the ranchers “clowns” who endangered firefighters and other people in the area while burning valuable rangeland.

Greg Allum, a retired BLM heavy equipment operator, soon called Capital Press to complain that he had not made those comments and request that they be taken down from the website. Capital Press has since removed the comments.

A search of the Internet Protocol address associated with the comments revealed it is owned by the BLM’s office in Denver, Colo.

Allum, who continues to build livestock watering systems in Eastern Oregon, said he is friends with the Hammonds and was alerted to the comments by neighbors who know he wouldn’t have written them.

“I feel bad for them. They lost a lot and they’re going to lose more,” Allum said of the ranchers.

He said employees of the BLM in the area have long had a contentious relationship with the Hammonds.

One of those employees likely chose to use Allum’s name to post the comments because he is known to disagree with the characterization of the Hammonds as villains, he said.

“They’re not terrorists. There’s this hatred in the BLM for them, and I don’t get it,” Allum said.

Allum said he wants any BLM employees involved in the incident punished not because they impersonated him, but because they wasted government resources during work hours.

“It was done by a federal employee getting paid,” he said.

The BLM’s computer servers are maintained in Denver but the comments could have been posted from anywhere, said Jody Weil, deputy state director for communications at BLM’s Oregon office.

The BLM is investigating the incident, and if the comments were posted by an agency employee, any disciplinary action could not be disclosed due to privacy protections, said Weil.

“We don’t give out any personnel or disciplinary action publicly,” she said.

State police lack proof that wolf deaths were human-caused

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The lead Oregon State Police investigator said the agency does not have probable cause to believe humans caused the deaths of the Sled Springs wolf pair in August.

Senior Trooper Kreg Coggins also said it’s unclear how the wolves died. State police use a standard of 51 percent certainty in determining probable cause, he said, and evidence in the case did not reach that level.

“At this point it’s somewhat of a mystery,” he said.

It’s not always easy to tell if an animal has been shot or poisoned, Coggins said. Decomposition complicates investigations, and the wolves were found dead during hot August weather, he said.

Coggins declined to speculate on what happened.

The environmental group Oregon Wild has called the deaths “suspicious” because wolves have been killed illegally in Oregon previously and “there is a very vocal minority that enthusiastically encourages it.”

ODFW confirmed the Sled Springs Pair killed a calf in June. Coggins, who works out of OSP’s Enterprise outpost, downplayed the possibility that the wolves were killed by ranchers or others in retaliation. Cattle have been attacked by wolves many times in Wallowa County, and no one has shot wolves in response, he said.

Oregon law defines probable cause as a “substantial objective basis” for believing a crime has been committed and a person to be arrested is responsible for it.

Northeast Oregon Wolves are protected under the state Endangered Species Act and killing them is a crime. But their presence is controversial, especially among cattle and sheep producers who bear the cost and stress of livestock losses and of non-lethal defensive measures.

The investigation began the week of Aug. 24 after a tracking collar worn by the female of the pair, OR-21, emitted a mortality signal. State police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife searched the area, north of the town of Wallowa, and found the female dead. Coggins said he went to the area the following day and found the male wolf dead as well. Police have said the wolves’ bodies were within 50 yards of each other.

State police and ODFW did not announce the deaths until Sept. 16. OSP spokesman Lt. Bill Fugate said at the time that investigators delayed disclosing the information because they did not want to tip their hand.

The pair had pups that would have been about five months old when the adult wolves died. A ODFW spokeswoman said the pups have not been seen, but they should be weaned at this point and are most likely “free-ranging” and able to fend for themselves.

Museum showcases vintage tractors, balers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

IRRIGON, Ore. — Wayne Schnell was 11 years old when he drove his first tractor, a 1941 John Deere Model A that his father bought for the family farm near Vancouver, Washington.

Seventy-four years later, Schnell still has that same Model A — along with about 60 other tractors and 20 or so hay balers spanning decades of American farm history.

Now 82, Schnell has since retired and sold his farm south of Irrigon, but couldn’t bear to see all the old equipment hauled off to the junkyard. He and his wife, Wanda, opened the Skinny Bull Ag Museum in March to preserve and share Wayne’s collection with the community.

Most of the tractors, balers, combines and backhoes Schnell actually used in the field. Others, he admits, he bought just to have.

“It’s like other people who collect stuff,” he said with a smile. “You always need one more.”

The oldest tractors in Schnell’s gallery date back to 1929, including a John Deere GP and Caterpillar 15. He has a 1945 World War II-era John Deere that’s likely one of the few left in existence with its original tires, made of recycled material.

But it was the Model A that Schnell said started it all. He has fond memories of plowing his family’s hayfields as a boy, stopping just long enough to split a peanut butter sandwich with their collie, Bowser.

Schnell personally repainted the Model A, which shines the signature John Deere green and yellow. He insists the old machine faithfully runs to this day.

“How do you throw something like this away?” he said. “I just hated to see it destroyed.”

The vintage tractors might not look so practical compared to today’s technology, with GPS steering and touch screens. Heck, Schnell said they didn’t even have air conditioning in the old days. They were just happy to sit down.

Schnell came to appreciate tractors while working as a machinist for 16 years. He later moved to Irrigon in 1972 and got back into farming, growing 340 acres of alfalfa hay near town.

He always found room for more tractors, which he grew to love like old cars.

“You appreciate all the engineering and work that went into building them, and how well they’ve worked for so many years,” he said. “You grow attached to them.”

It was actually at a classic car show where Wayne met Wanda, and they married in 2003. As a collector herself — Wanda can never have too many hurricane lamps or cast iron pans, she says — she was completely behind the idea of opening a museum for Wayne’s collection.

“Once Wayne decides he wants to do something, there’s no doubt he’s going to accomplish it,” Wanda said.

When the Schnells sold the farm in 2013, they reached a special agreement; the buyer purchased the old 10,000-square-foot Keglers supermarket behind Bank of Eastern Oregon in Irrigon, and used it as a down payment on the farm. This is where Wayne and Wanda have set up Skinny Bull.

The Schnells continue to make little improvements and swap stories with visitors who come to check out the museum. Admission is free, though donations are suggested.

“It’s mostly people who grew up with (agriculture), and have an interest in the past,” Wayne said. “They have memories of growing up with this kind of machinery.”

The name “Skinny Bull” comes from Wayne’s friendship with the late Ray Fox, who used to run a feedlot near the Schnells’ farm. They would gently tease each other, with Schnell asking about Fox’s “skinny bulls” and Fox countering with Schnell’s “weedy hay.”

Schnell would tell Fox he planned to name his tractor museum “Skinny Bull.”

“I thought I saw him grin,” Schnell said.

The Skinny Bull Ag Museum is open five days a week, closed on Wednesday and Thursdays.

Schnell said he is happy to have the chance for a little show-and-tell with his neighbors.

“If you treat it right and it treats you right, you come to appreciate it,” he said. “You like to have some place to put it where you can walk past, kick the tires and have those memories, good or bad.”

Oregon plan targets cougars to aid wildlife, livestock

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

FLORENCE, Ore. — State wildlife agents would kill up to 95 cougars annually in four target areas under a proposal presented as an information item to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife commission.

The target areas would be activated beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Under the ODFW plan, cougars would be killed in three target areas — Interstate, Steens Mountain and Warner — to improve mule deer and big horn sheep populations and in the Umpqua region to reduce conflict with livestock, pets and humans.

Public testimony at the commission’s meeting on Friday was primarily critical of the plan. Multiple speakers described the methods by which cougars would be killed — neck snares and pursuit by hounds — as cruel or “barbaric.”

Others noted livestock losses and increased presence of cougars in or near residential areas. Kelly Forney, of Roseburg, who contracts with landowners to legally hunt cougars with hounds, said the increasing cougar population has resulted in juveniles dispersing away from territory claimed by adult cougars.

“We have livestock kills occurring on a near daily basis in Douglas County,” Forney said.

ODFW report says Oregon has met criteria to delist wolves

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Taking wolves off Oregon’s endangered species list won’t significantly affect their management because the state wolf plan would remain in place, according to a biological status review that will be presented to the state wildlife commission on Friday.

Taking no action on the delisting question, however, might undermine support for the 10-year-old wolf plan and “thereby reducing public tolerance for wolves,” the report concludes.

The report compiled by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists says the state’s wolf population continues to increase in “abundance and distribution” and has met the required criteria for delisting in every instance.

Discussion of the report at Friday’s commission meeting in Florence, Ore., is billed as an informational biological status review, with no action scheduled. But it could provide a preview of the commission’s ultimate decision when it meets again Nov. 9 in Salem.

It also coincides with controversy over ODFW’s refusal to authorize killing Mount Emily Pack wolves that repeatedly attacked a sheep herd this summer, and with the unsolved deaths of two wolves known as the Sled Springs Pair.

To take wolves off the state endangered species, the commission must make five findings. They are: 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.

Each of the criteria is examined in depth in the report. “The probability of population failure is very low,” the biologists concluded.

Wolves in Northeast Oregon have been taken off the federal endangered species list but remain on the state list. The federal listing still applies in the rest of the state, including where the famous traveling wolf, OR-7, resides with his pack in the Southwest Oregon Cascades.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service introduced 66 gray wolves into Idaho and Wyoming in 1995-96. As expected, a few Idaho wolves migrated to Northeast Oregon beginning in 1999. Oregon’s first pack, the Wenaha, was documented in 2008.

Other highlights of the report:

• Oregon’s wolf population as of July is a minimum of 85 individuals in 16 packs or groups, up from 81 wolves at the end of 2014. Biologists believe more wolves live in the state but only 85 are documented. The number does not include pups born this year.

• The population will surpass 100 to 150 wolves in the next one to three years, “regardless of listed status.”

• Wolves now use 12.4 percent of their potential range statewide, 31.6 percent in Eastern Oregon.

• From 2009 through June 2015, confirmed losses to wolves stood at 79 sheep, 37 cattle, two goats and two herd protection dogs. Ranchers believe wolves are responsible for much more damage, saying livestock often disappear in wolf country.

• No wolves have been killed while attacking or chasing livestock. Since 2009, ODFW has killed four for “chronic” livestock attacks, but none since 2011. At least five wolves have been illegally shot since 2000; one died in an ODFW capture attempt in 2011; one was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2000.

Collective vision a different agricultural model

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

On an Oregon farm, a collective vision creates a different agricultural model

By Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

SHERWOOD, Ore. — Is this the changing face of Oregon agriculture?

Our Table Cooperative, a 58-acre farm 20 miles southwest of Portland, functions as a collective, with workers, regional producers and consumers buying memberships and sharing risks and rewards.

The farm grows blueberries, apples and an ocean of greens, plus chickens for eggs and meat. It has a small grocery store where it sells its own products and those of producer members. Adjacent to the store is a commercial kitchen, used when hosting farm dinners at $90 a pop. Solar panels provide most of the electricity needed for irrigation and refrigeration. The farm’s delivery vehicle is a commercial-sized Mercedes van.

Its co-founder is Narendra Varma, 47, an Indian-born, American-educated and citizen “visionary,” as a friend calls him, who left Microsoft in 1998 with what he describes as a “stock-option fueled financial windfall” and set out to do some good with it.

After an “obligatory globe-trotting walkabout” and some years involved in property development, he settled on agriculture and its ecological and economic connection to nearly everything, from climate change and social justice to nutrition.

Drawn by Oregon’s land-use laws that protect farmland, he and his wife, Machelle, also a Microsoft refugee, moved from Seattle in 2010 intending to create a farm based on a model of “permaculture.” That is, an agricultural and even social system that mimics natural ecosystems.

Varma believes Our Table Cooperative is an alternative to a food system that she says is broken, unhealthy and mired in “hidden cultural stuff.”

“The problem’s not one of how to grow a better carrot,” Varma said. “It’s much more pervasive and deeper than that.

“People talk about the subsidies in the Farm Bill,” he said. “The real subsidy is not in the Farm Bill, it’s that a soda machine (was) considered normal in a high school. That’s the subsidy to corn.”

He isn’t alone in his thinking.

“We have a generation of people in their 20s and 30s who are interested in going into farming as a business and as a statement of how they see the world,” said Garry Stephenson, director of Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.

While the number of small farms counted in the 2012 Census of Agriculture actually declined compared to the 2007 census, their impact in urban areas is considerable.

In Portland, self-described homesteaders converted abandoned city lots into specialty herb gardens and sell to high-end restaurants. Others invent tools scaled for small farms, such as battery-powered tillers and adjustable handcarts equipped with bicycle tires. Some carve out a living by hosting farm dinners, selling at farmers’ markets and delivering to community supported agriculture customers.

Increasingly, small farms are gaining institutional recognition and help. OSU’s small farms center and extension programs help beginning and small farmers, while the USDA provides grants and expertise through agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

In many cases, the agencies are interacting with people who were drawn to farming by a sense that the food system doesn’t work and that regionally, at least, they can fix it.

Josh Volk of Portland, a mechanical engineer who turned his skills to designing and building farm tools, said farming is attracting people who have worked in other industries or businesses.

“They’re not necessarily looking for an easier way to make a living, but they’re looking for a better way to make a living,” he said.

Volk, a consultant who helped design Our Table and who has written a manuscript profiling four farms of less than five acres, said environmental concern is a common entry point for new young farmers, and agriculture is an outlet.

“If you’re going to be growing things, you have to be nurturing in some sense,” he said. “It’s not a coincidence.”

It’s a movement that shows no sign of fading. In September, more than 200 people attended a one-day small-farm school put on by OSU. Also this fall, Clackamas Community College southeast of Portland became the first school in Oregon to offer a certificate in urban agriculture.

The program attracted students such as Andrew Watson, a former statistical engineer for Netflix who, with his wife, is looking to buy a small farm in Oregon. He grew up on a conventional dairy farm in the United Kingdom and now hopes to grow vegetables and have dairy goats and chickens.

“I devoted myself to high-tech, now I’m devoting myself to producing food,” Watson said with a smile. “It’s quite a content switch, but you’re still producing something people enjoy.”

Fellow Clackamas student Chad Bennett was a recruiter for high-tech companies in the Portland area such as Intel before getting laid off. He decided to pursue his real interest, growing food, and established a farm on the one-fifth acre he owns in East Portland. His wife continues to work in high-tech while Bennett grows leafy greens, root crops and salad mixes.

He said Portland is a food-conscious city that supports such ventures.

“It will be more sustainable if people are growing food right around them,” he said. “Otherwise you’re using a truck and driving it across the country.”

Community college instructor Chris Konieczka said some in the urban agriculture program are simply looking to have the “sweetest” home garden, indulge a hobby or make a little money on the side. He said others pursue it as an issue of “food justice” — the concern that the poorest people can’t afford or don’t have access to nutritious food.

Urban agriculture can change the food system, support local economies and spread economic benefit to more people, Konieczka said.

“We’re kicking in a little bit of difference to the world,” he said, “and that feels good.”

Our Table Cooperative, the Sherwood farm, incorporated in 2013 and was founded on that notion of change.

Varma and his wife chose the site carefully, buying land that was close to Portland’s supportive foodies and access to the urban amenities that would be attractive to workers.

They looked for land with good soil and existing water rights, the lack of which hampers many beginning farmers. They purposefully sought property whose previous owners had been through Oregon’s Measure 37 and Measure 49 land-use process, and won the transferable right to eventually add two more residences. Most development is not allowed on Oregon farmland.

When built, those houses will be rented to workers. Varma hopes workers will be attracted by a trade-off of reduced income in exchange for subsidized rent and subsidized food from the farm.

Rather than focus on one crop — by expanding the blueberry acreage that was already in place, for example — the farm grows multiple types of vegetables, berries, flowers and fruit.

“What we lose in efficiency, we gain in resiliency” through diversification, Varma said.

Varma said the farm produces a lot of food but is not yet making a profit and so hasn’t yet paid dividends to co-op members. The farm hopes to make a profit by 2017.

Farm membership shares cost $5,000 for workers; $1,500 for producers and $150 for consumers. Workers can pay the fee up front or with a down payment and payroll deductions. The farm pays a minimum wage of $10.40 an hour for farmer members and no more than two times that for managers. The wage rates are based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator for the Portland metro area. Varma said MIT recently increased its Portland calculation to $11.25 an hour but the farm can’t catch up to that until 2016. The farm’s three owner groups are represented by a board of directors.

Gianna Banducci, Our Table’s marketing director and a cooperative member, said the farm has had a mixed reception from conventional farmers. Some are apprehensive or merely curious, others identify with the challenges of starting a small, diversified farm.

“For myself, personally, I’ve never worked harder, I’ve never put myself into a job like this,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s mine. If it doesn’t get done, it’s because I didn’t do it.”

Varma’s overriding concern is maintaining the land for farm use over generations. The average age of American farmers is 57, near retirement, and developers may be the only ones with enough money to buy farmland outright.

The shared ownership model, or holding land in a public trust and leasing to new farmers, may be alternatives, he said.

“We knew we wanted to manage the land with an eye to long-term health,” Varma said.

Central Oregon reservoirs at lowest levels in 20 years

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BEND, Ore. (AP) — The Wickiup Reservoir south of Bend and the Prineville Reservoir are both at their lowest points in more than 20 years.

The Bulletin reports that Wickiup, which serves as a major water source for farmland in Jefferson County, was only 9 percent full as of Wednesday. Typically, the Wickiup is about 32 percent full.

The last time the Wickiup was this low was in 1994.

Elsewhere in Central Oregon, the Prineville Reservoir is only 30 percent full, its lowest point since 1992.

Officials say low snowpack and the ongoing drought has seriously depleted reservoirs. The Prineville Reservoir is expected to recover before next growing season, but the Wickiup may not.

Judge sends Oregon ranchers back to prison

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

EUGENE, Ore. — A father and son who raise cattle in Eastern Oregon are headed back to federal prison for committing arson on public land.

Dwight Lincoln Hammond, 73, and his son, Steven Dwight Hammond, 46, were sentenced on Oct. 7 to five years in prison for illegally setting fires on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property near Diamond, Ore.

The ranchers had already served shorter sentences because the federal judge originally overseeing their case said the five-year minimum requirement “would shock the conscience.”

The Hammonds were subject to re-sentencing because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out those original prison terms for igniting fires in 2001 and 2006 as too lenient.

Previously, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, who is now retired, found that a five-year term would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because it’s “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here.”

Dwight Lincoln Hammond, who was only convicted of the 2001 fire, received three months in prison, while his son was sentenced to one year, followed by three years of supervised release for each man.

Federal prosecutors challenged those sentences, and the 9th Circuit agreed that judges don’t have the “discretion to disregard” such requirements.

The appeals court rejected claims by the ranchers’ defense attorney that the federal arson statute was intended to punish terrorism, rather than burning to remove invasive species or improve rangeland.

At the Oct. 7 re-sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said the ranchers cannot disregard the law in regard to setting fires on BLM property.

“You don’t have the right to make decisions on public lands when they’re not yours,” she said.

Aiken compared the situation to “eco-terrorism” cases in which activists damaged property in reaction to environmental decisions with which they disagreed.

“They didn’t necessarily like how the government was handling things, either,” she said.

Similarly, people who violate hunting and fishing regulations are also subject to sanctions, Aiken said.

“The rules are there for a reason,” she said.

Aiken said she would use discretion in sentencing the Hammonds if she could, but that wasn’t a possibility given the mandatory minimums and the jury’s decision to convict them of arson.

“It wasn’t a jury of people from Eugene, it wasn’t a jury of people from Portland. It was a jury of people from Pendleton — your peers,” she said.

Frank Papagni, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the Hammonds, said the ranchers should be subject to the five-year sentence but disagreed with recommendations from the U.S. Probation Office that they receive even longer sentences.

The U.S. Probation Office said that Dwight Hammond should serve five years and three months, while Steven Hammond should serve six year and six months years.

Papagni said those enhanced sentences were inappropriate because the fires didn’t directly endanger the lives of nearby firefighters and hunters.

Nonetheless, the five-year terms are appropriate for the Hammonds’ actions, he said.

“These grazing leases don’t give them the exclusive right to use these lands,” Papagni said. “It doesn’t give them the right to burn the property. It’s not theirs.”

Attorneys for the Hammonds did not object to the five-year sentences in light of the 9th Circuit ruling, but asked that they receive credit for time served.

Aiken agreed to that request and said she would recommend both men serve their time together at the federal prison in Sheridan, Ore.

Before the sentencing, the Oregon Farm Bureau tried to convince the BLM to drop the arson charges against the Hammonds and replace them with charges that would not require a mandatory minimum sentence, said Dave Dillon, the organization’s executive vice president.

When that route did not yield the desired results, the organization decided to circulate a “Save the Hammonds” petition that has been signed by about 2,400 people.

“We did not make the progress we thought we should, so we’re taking a more public approach,” Dillon said.

Dillon said he recognized that the Hammonds faced slim chances of receiving less than five years, given the 9th Circuit’s ruling, but said he hoped the petition may convince the Obama administration to grant them clemency.

Not only have both men served time in federal prison, but the BLM has refused to renew their grazing rights for two years, he said.

The BLM likely does not subject its own employees to arson charges when they’ve made mistakes during prescribed burns, so the punishment for the Hammonds was excessive, Dillon said.

“To treat them as terrorists, we think, is horribly unjust and secondly, hypocritical,” he said. “Why does the federal government need to get more?”

Producer: Two more sheep killed in area of Mount Emily pack

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A sheep producer said two more sheep were found dead in the area where Oregon wildlife officials confirmed five attacks by the Mount Emily wolf pack in Northeast Oregon.

Jeremy Bingham of Utopia Land & Livestock sent photos to the Capital Press of sheep he said were found dead Sept. 30, five days after Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife turned down his request for lethal control against the Mount Emily pack.

The department confirmed five attacks on Bingham’s sheep and guard dogs, one in June and four in August, but said Sept. 25 it wouldn’t authorize killing wolves because nearly a month had passed since the last attack, the pack had moved to another part of its known range and non-lethal measures appeared to be working.

ODFW reports confirm wolves killed at least seven sheep and a guard dog in attacks investigated June 22, Aug. 4, Aug. 15, Aug. 24 and Aug. 27. Under Phase 2 of Oregon’s wolf recovery plan, lethal control can be authorized after two confirmed “depredations,” or one confirmed attack and three attempts.

It’s unclear whether the latest report of dead sheep will factor in ODFW’s actions.

An ODFW spokeswoman said Bingham did not request an investigation and officials have not seen the carcasses. The department will investigate if Bingham requests it, the carcasses are located and the initial evidence indicates wolves may have been responsible, spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said in an email.

“Any decision regarding lethal control of wolves will be made based on the circumstances of each situation and within the guidelines of the current rules and plan. Therefore, we could not speculate at this time what ‘would’ happen if more depredation occurs — it is solely dependent on the actual circumstances of the situation,” Dennehy said.

Bingham said reporting it wouldn’t make a difference.

“What you have to understand (is) they are not going to take lethal action no matter what this year,” he said in a text.

Hemp grower encouraged by cross-pollination experiment

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

For Oregon hemp grower Jerry Norton, the recent harvest season has been successful in more than one way.

Apart from producing a healthy stand of the crop in a Marion County field, Norton is pleased with an experiment on cross-pollination between hemp and its psychoactive relative: marijuana.

The potential for cross-pollination between hemp and marijuana was a major point of contention between growers of the two crops in 2015, which marked the first time in decades that hemp was legally grown in the state.

“There’s a phobia with the cross-pollination,” Norton said.

Marijuana growers fear hemp pollen because they want to avoid the formation of seeds in their crop, which decreases the quality and volume of psychoactive flowers.

As part of his experiment, Norton grew numerous hemp plants in a greenhouse that also contained several marijuana plants. In Oregon, recreational use of the psychoactive crop became legal this year and its medical cultivation has been legal since the late 1990s.

Despite their close proximity to male hemp plants, Norton’s female marijuana plants developed a minimal number of seeds.

“We’ve been successful with them not cross-pollinating,” said Norton.

The dearth of seeds found in the marijuana makes him optimistic that hemp and marijuana growers will find a way to coexist in Oregon, similarly to specialty seed producers who use a mapping system to avoid cross-pollination.

“We want it to be like tomatoes or any other commodity,” he said.

Pollen from marijuana and hemp has been known to travel more than 7 miles, and the plants can be pollinated by honeybees that fly about 2.5 miles from their hives, according to legislative testimony submitted by Russ Karow, an Oregon State University crop and soil science professor.

However, some crops that can technically cross-pollinate — such as goatgrass and wheat — will actually produce few seeds, said Carol Mallory-Smith, an OSU weed scientist who has studied gene flow.

While Mallory-Smith has not studied hemp and marijuana specifically, she said it’s possible that genetic variations and differences in flowering times may be responsible for the low seed numbers seen by Norton.

“There are a lot of biological and physical reasons that plants may not hybridize and produce seed,” she said.

Figuring out which varieties of marijuana and hemp are unlikely to cross-pollinate will require more research to be useful for growers, said Norton.

“We don’t know which can coexist with other ones,” he said.

The issue generated controversy during Oregon’s 2015 legislative session, with a bill that would restrict hemp production passing the House but failing in the Senate.

Hemp production in Oregon has turned out much differently this year than what legislators envisioned when they legalized the crop in 2009, said Lindsay Eng, director of market access and certification programs for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The crop was legalized several years ago but ODA only began issuing permits this year after finalizing production rules.

While lawmakers expected the crop to be grown on an industrial scale for fiber and seed, Oregon growers are more inclined to produce it on a small scale for cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound that’s thought to have medical uses.

The law requires hemp growers to produce fields of the crop that are 2.5 acres, but it does not set a mandated seeding rate, Eng said. “It doesn’t speak specifically to density, so you could conceivably spread five plants over 2.5 acres.”

The ODA is revising its hemp rules and the legislature may revisit the hemp statute in 2016, she said.

Growers have focused on CBD because it’s more economically viable than competing with large hemp farmers in Canada, Eastern Europe and China, Eng said. “On those industrial-type commodities, you tend to see pretty big acreage.”

Norton said he’s growing hemp for CBD but he also expects that the crop stems to be processed and sold as livestock bedding. The stalks can also be chopped up and mixed with lime to make “hempcrete,” a type of lightweight insulation.

“I think it’s going to be the next thing in building materials,” he said.

Idaho funds yellow onion promotion in Mexico

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PARMA, Idaho — The Idaho-Oregon onion industry will use a $35,000 specialty crop grant to educate consumers in Mexico about the yellow bulb onions grown in this region.

Farmers in southwestern Idaho and Malheur County in Eastern Oregon grow about 25 percent of the nation’s storage onions and 90 percent of the onions grown here are yellows.

Mexico is a promising market for Idaho-Oregon onions but Mexican consumers are more familiar and comfortable with white onions, said Candi Fitch, executive director of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which received the grant from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

“There is a lot of potential in Mexico and we want their consumers to understand how versatile a yellow onion is,” she said. “They’re more familiar with the white onion ... and we’re just trying to introduce them to the yellow onion.”

The grant will help the committee overcome the lack of knowledge about yellow onions that exists in the Mexican marketplace, said Standage Produce CEO Joe Standage, a member of the IEOOC’s export committee.

“They are not accustomed to the presentation of a yellow onion on a plated dish; it’s just not what they’re (used) to looks-wise,” he said. “It’s just a matter of educating them that the yellow onion is still good.”

The IEOOC received a similar grant from the ISDA last year that was used to promote onions at the retail level in Mexico through in-store promotions. This year’s grant will be used to target Mexico’s food-service industry.

“Anything we can do to educate consumers in Mexico about the yellow onion versus the white onion is money well spent,” Standage said. “It will definitely help us promote our product down there.”

The two-year project will include cooking seminars, menu promotions and receipt development in several cities in Mexico.

Some of the money will also be used to help offset the cost of onion industry representatives going on trade missions, which Fitch said provide opportunities to meet potential new buyers and gather in-depth information and insight into the demographics of foreign markets.

“We want to build our identity in other markets and continue to create market share for our onions in other countries,” she said. “It’s a global economy so we want to try to find as many markets as possible for our onions.”

The IEOOC will evaluate trade missions as they become available to determine which ones will benefit the industry the most, Fitch said.

The grant amount is equal to the IEOOC export committee’s annual budget.

“This enables us to do a lot more than we would otherwise be able to do,” Fitch said.

Columbian white-tailed deer reach recovery milestone

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

One of the original endangered species — the Columbian white-tailed deer — is slowly making its way toward recovery.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downgrading its protected status from endangered to threatened.

The new status will mean these deer are no longer on the brink of extinction. But they’re not fully recovered yet, either.

Their numbers along the Columbia River were down to around 450 back in 1967 when they joined the bald eagle and California condor in the first group of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Now there are more than 900 deer in the lower Columbia River area.

“We are actually making tremendous progress in recovering this species,” said Paul Henson, state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Oregon. “We now have more deer in more places. The population has essentially more than doubled since the species was first listed.”

Columbian white-tailed deer populations declined as a result of habitat loss as farming, logging and development took over the river valleys and bottomlands the deer call home.

To rebuild the population, Henson said, his agency has moved deer into wildlife refuges and relocated elk that compete with the deer for food. Wildlife officials have even killed coyotes to protect the deer from their natural predators until their numbers rebound.

In 1971, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created the Julia Butler Hansen Wildlife Refuge specifically to harbor and protect Columbian white-tailed deer.

Jackie Ferrier, a project leader for the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Julia Butler Hansen refuge, says refuge staff have put a lot of energy into maintaining habitat for the deer.

They’ve also moved deer from the refuge to other areas to help expand the population.

“We do a lot of intensive habitat management,” Ferrier said. “We do pasture work and riparian plantings because they like both grass and woody species. We do that and invasive species control.”

When the elk population in the refuge grows too big, she said, master hunters are invited in to reduce their numbers, though that hasn’t happened in many years. When predation rates get too high or predators grow too numerous, she said, the refuge will call for predator controls.

Their strategy appears to be working. This year, Ferrier said, many deer in the refuge have twin fawns.

“That’s really good,” she said. “We like to see it. It means the habitat is good. The does are comfortable and getting the resources they need.”

The plan for easing protections on the deer includes implementing a new rule that will allow landowners to manage deer on their property. Henson said his agency hopes that will make people less nervous about having the deer on their land.

“From our perspective that will then allow the white-tailed deer to expand into more places and actually have higher population numbers across greater parts of its historic range because people will be more receptive to having them on their property,” he said.

The current population numbers are nearly high enough to consider removing the species from the Endangered List, Henson said. But he said he wants to see more deer populations in more places before delisting.

The current range of the Columbia River population of Columbian white-tailed deer includes areas on the Washington and Oregon sides of the river, including islands in the river.

Another population in Southern Oregon has already been deemed recovered and was removed from the Endangered List in 2002.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comments on the proposal to ease protections for the Columbia River population before making a final decision.

Litigation attempts to sort out radish seed ownership

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND — Oregon farmers who are owed money for radish seed from an out-of-state company won’t likely be paid for their 2014 crop until next year — if they’re paid at all.

Throughout the year, numerous farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley have filed liens against Cover Crop Solutions, a company based in Pennsylvania, for more than $6.3 million worth of unpaid radish seed.

An oversupply of radish seed has apparently subjected to the company to financial difficulties.

Liens provide farms with collateral in the event of bankruptcy, but Northwest Bank of Warren, Pa., claims that it actually owns the seed because Cover Crop Solutions has defaulted on a $7.2 million loan.

The bank has filed a lawsuit against 41 Oregon farms, claiming that it has a priority security interest in the seed over the growers and therefore owns the crop.

“We believe they may have some interest in the seed, but it’s definitely behind the bank,” said James Ray Streinz, an attorney for the bank, during an Oct. 5 federal court hearing in Portland.

Northwest Bank recently dropped its request for a preliminary injunction that would have blocked farmers and seed cleaners from selling or moving the crop, but that doesn’t mean growers will be able to sell it anytime soon.

Potential purchasers are afraid of buying the seed because they don’t want to become entangled in the litigation, Paul Conable, an attorney for the farmers, told Capital Press after the hearing.

“They haven’t gotten a dime for it,” Conable said. “Nobody is going to buy the seed until there’s an agreement about who owns it. You’re just buying yourself a lawsuit.”

Much of the dispute between the farmers and Northwest Bank centers on lien filing procedures — the bank claims growers filed them untimely or improperly, while the farms counter that the bank misunderstands Oregon lien law.

During the hearing, Streinz told U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman that the case will mostly focus on matters of law and won’t require testimony from many experts.

The growers and bank agreed that they want to have the legal dispute resolved in time for the prevailing party to sell the radish seed by late summer or early fall of 2016.

To that end, Mosman ordered the parties to submit court briefs arguing their positions by next spring and set a jury trial date of June 7.

Lumber company donates $6 million to OSU forestry complex

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — A California lumber company has donated $6 million to Oregon State University to help fund the school’s forest science complex.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports that Sierra Pacific Industries’ gift will go toward the construction of the Oregon Forest Science Complex, which will be part of the new Corvallis campus of the OSU College of Forestry.

The $6 million is earmarked for a 20,000-square-foot laboratory for the development of advanced wood products such as cross-laminated timber, a type of engineered wood panel that is replacing steel and concrete in some high-rise buildings.

The new lab will be named the A.A. “Red” Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory in honor of Sierra Pacific’s co-founder. Two of Emmerson’s children are OSU graduates.


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