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Divers prepare to yank irrigation-clogging weed

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Divers equipped with suction hoses will soon begin removing flowering rush from sites on the Columbia river where the irrigation canal-clogging weed was discovered last year.

The invasive species was first found on the Oregon side of the river near McNary Dam in August 2014, but regulatory hurdles prevented it from being dug out immediately.

Flowering rush is already a problem in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, where its thickly growing leaves impede water movement to the detriment of irrigators and fish.

A team of divers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to spend the final week of August yanking the plants, which were previously covered with plastic barrier mats to prevent the weed patches from spreading.

“This is going to be an ongoing thing for a while and there are no easy solutions,” said Tim Butler, noxious weed control program manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. It’s a difficult plant to control, is the bottom line.”

Before divers were allowed to physically pull the weed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which has jurisdiction over the Columbia River — had to clear the project under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

With that process complete, further removals will not have to be evaluated under NEPA or ESA, though new sites will still have to be reviewed for cultural resources under ARPA, said Damian Walter, wildlife biologist for the agency.

The upcoming diving project is expected to cost $50,000, which required the agency to shift funds from other invasive management programs, he said.

Flowering rush remains submerged during winter, so the diving team also had to wait until the plants were at their most visible to begin removal, Walter said.

The weed is a concern for irrigators because it can stop water from freely flowing in canals, hindering water delivery. Its capacity to change ecosystems is also a risk for threatened and endangered native fish, as the plant creates the ideal habitat for invasive pike that prey on them.

Treating the weed patches with herbicides is troublesome because of the plant’s aquatic nature — chemicals are difficult to effectively apply in flowing water, can damage crops and face environmental restrictions.

“The physical removal is probably the best technique we have at this point,” said Butler.

In the long term, researchers from Washington State University hope to identify natural predators in Central Europe, where the weed originates, to help suppress it in the Northwest.

At this point, two potential candidates have been found: the beetle species Bagous nodulosus and Bagous validus, which feed on the flowering rush’s rhizomatous roots, said Jennifer Andreas, director of WSU’s Integrated Weed Control Project.

Attacking the rhizomes is important, since fragments break off and allow the weed to infest new areas downstream, she said. “That’s the part that’s causing the biggest damage. That’s the part that moves.”

Before the insects could be released into environment, researchers must conduct extensive studies to show they would not damage native plant species, Andreas said.

Approval must come from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the process usually takes about a decade, she said.

Biological controls are typically deployed against invasives that are already widespread, but WSU hopes to release a natural enemy before flowering rush gets completely out of control, Andreas said.

“This is a weed that is spreading incredibly quickly,” she said.

Idaho, Oregon lawmakers push new way to pay for wildfires

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A bipartisan effort seeking to change the way the country pays to fight disastrous wildfires has been renewed after stalling repeatedly from lawmakers hesitant to approve letting firefighting agencies use dollars meant for natural disasters rather than money set aside for fire prevention.

Over the years, firefighting agencies have been forced to borrow money set aside for forest thinning and other fire prevention projects as wildfire seasons have ballooned in activity and costs.

Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon announced Wednesday that they are getting ready to pitch bipartisan legislation to Congress this fall.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Risch said at a news conference at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “Our eastern and southern colleagues don’t necessarily have the same world view. Fire has always been part of the landscape out West and we’ll always have to deal with it.”

Crapo acknowledged that prior attempts to get similar bills through Congress have stalled, but he says this year supporters have the backing of key congressional committee leaders to help move it through.

The bill has also been deemed budget-neutral from the Congressional Budget Office, which has helped ease fears that it would create a “blank check” approach to fighting wildfires, Crapo said.

“It is an emergency, but it is an emergency we can solve,” Crapo said.

According to the legislation, firefighting agencies could use federal natural disaster funds for wildfire suppression, but only if nationwide firefighting costs reached 70 percent of the 10-year average.

This would prevent firefighting agencies like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service from borrowing funds that pay for projects that help reduce fire-prone regions. This would include removing trees, clearing underbrush and clearing out overgrown forests

Lawmakers at Wednesday’s news conference noted that while natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes qualify for emergency federal funds, it’s up to firefighting agencies to pay for battling the big blazes from their own budgets.

And as wildfires have grown in size and frequency, federal agencies have been spending more than ever to try to keep up. For example, in 1995. wildfire costs were just 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. In 2015, wildfire costs consumed more than half of the overall budget, and by 2025, the agency predicts it’ll take up nearly 70 percent.

Wildfire claims sage grouse habitat in Idaho

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Here’s a look at wildfires burning Wednesday around the West:


A blaze in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon fanned by shifting winds quickly grew to 185 square miles, causing about 50 homes to be under an evacuation notice and burning key sage grouse habitat.

The fire blew across U.S. Highway 95 and moved a mile and a half in 8 minutes, said fire spokeswoman Carrie Bilbao of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The road later reopened.

With no sign of the fire dying down, Owyhee County Sheriff officials sent an evacuation order. As of 3:30 p.m., roughly 30 homes had been evacuated, with that number expected to rise later in the day.

There were no reports of injuries, and just one structure has been lost in the sparsely populated area. No cause has been determined for the fire was about 20 percent contained.

About 40 square miles of the fire is in Oregon.

Authorities are expected to decide this fall whether sage grouse need federal protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Habitat loss is a key consideration.

Elsewhere in Idaho, lighting strikes in forests have started numerous fires. Most have been quickly contained.

In eastern Oregon, dozens of homes south of Baker City have been evacuated in the path of two growing wildfires. Officials say people who live in a rural community and surrounding ranchland were told to leave.

In the central part of the state, officials closed some recreation areas in the Umpqua National Forest because of wildfires.

Also, wildfire near Warm Springs was caused by sparks when an RV’s trailer lost a wheel. Officials said the fire grew quickly to nearly 8 square miles, forcing the closure of a stretch of U.S. 26 and destroying a trailer home.



A wildfire burning near Spokane has scorched 150 acres, and evacuations are in effect.

Department of Natural Resource officials say the fire is threatening 15 to 20 structures, including homes, and residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.



High temperatures and low humidity caused the rapid growth of a new wildfire in a remote part of Glacier National Park.

Park officials say the blaze has burned more than 23 square miles and was threatening the Upper Nyack cabin, a historic patrol cabin. Some trails and campsites were closed.

Dozens of homes evacuated in wildfire path in Eastern Oregon

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) — Dozens of homes in a rural area south of Baker City have been evacuated in the path of two growing wildfires in eastern Oregon.

Officials at the Baker County sheriff’s office and the Bureau of Land Management say people who live in a rural community and surrounding ranchland were told to leave Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Fire officials say the Windy River Fire was moving quickly to the northwest because of high winds. The fire burning in steep rocky terrain had grown to about 9 square miles by Wednesday evening.

Another fire nearby has burned about 23 square miles. Further to the east and north on the Oregon-Idaho border another fire has burned more than 300 square miles.

In central Oregon, U.S. Forest Service officials have closed some recreation areas near Diamond Lake in the Umpqua National Forest because of wildfires.

Another fire, in Warm Springs, Oregon, was sparked Wednesday when an RV’s trailer lost a wheel. The fire quickly grew to nearly 8 square miles and closed a stretch of U.S. Highway 26. A fire spokesman said the fire has destroyed one trailer home.

Beetle swarms invade Portland neighborhood

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Beetles are invading areas of Portland and it turns out the government really is to blame.

KGW-TV reports that residents of the Portland neighborhood of Sellwood have reported swarms of tiny beetles taking over yards, gardens and even homes.

Officials say the bugs were released by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the city of Portland in nearby Oaks Bottom Refuge to combat an aggressive and invasive weed called purple loosestrife.

Officials say they have been releasing them successfully for years, but it appears this year the population has skyrocketed. The beetles have eaten all of the invasive weeds and instead moved into nearby neighborhoods in search of food.

Oregon Department of Agriculture officials say the hot and dry weather may be to blame for the spike in populations.

Board to vote on proposal to seek buyer for state forest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -


Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The State Land Board is scheduled to vote on a plan to find an unusual buyer for the Elliott State Forest: one that will pay a fair market price, conserve older trees, protect threatened fish and wildlife, produce logs for local mills, and leave it open to the public.

The board, made up of the governor, the secretary of state, and the state treasurer, meets Thursday in Salem to consider the 315-page proposal.

The 140-square-mile forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year but lately has been running $1 million a year in the red. Attempts to ramp up logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on grounds they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.

Department of State Lands spokeswoman Julie Curtis acknowledges that finding such a buyer is a tall order, but a series of hearings identified all those elements as priorities for Oregon residents. The board rejected two other alternatives, to find a new manager for the forest, and to develop a new plan for protecting threatened salmon and wildlife that would produce more timber.

Curtis said the department has been meeting with representatives of local governments and agencies, timber companies and conservation groups, but so far all are keeping their intentions to themselves. If no buyers emerge, the department goes back to the board in December 2016. Two options would be to retain the forest while accepting losses of $1 million a year, or selling it without the conservation and public access restrictions.

Josh Laughlin of the conservation group Cascadia Wildlands Project said it would favor a public land trust buying the forest and selling it back to the federal government, so it could be returned to the Siuslaw National Forest. That would retain public access and conservation protections, particularly on the half of the forest that has never been logged.

Bob Ragon, director of Douglas Timber Operators, said he could not imagine a private timber company being interested in buying the forest, because of all the conditions being imposed.

“I think (the board has) struggled so hard trying to find a happy ground that would meet everybody’s interest, that the simplest solution would be to sell it to the highest bidder, and put restrictions on it like no log exports, which would keep the highest return for the School Fund,” he said.


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