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Home-destroying wildfire burning almost 100 square miles

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Officials are starting to report some containment of the wildfire that destroyed 36 houses near John Day, Oregon, but gusty winds were expected to continue spreading the flames on the southeast flank.

The Canyon Creek Complex has scorched almost 100 square miles, much of it in the Malheur National Forest. Various evacuation orders continue.

Lightning started the fire Aug. 12 and strong winds pushed it up a canyon south of John Day in a run that ruined the homes.

More than 900 people have been dispatched to fight it, but some crews were diverted late Thursday afternoon to a new wildfire east of John Day near Prairie City. Some homeowners northeast of Prairie City were put on evacuation alert.

Red flag warnings concerning winds that could rapidly spread flames remained in effect through Friday.

Grass seed, wine grape growers discuss herbicide drift solutions

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

AMITY, Ore. — Grass seed farmer Denny Wilfong was enthused to learn that the Oregon Seed Council and the Oregon Winegrowers Association were organizing a tour to address issues of herbicide drift between grass seed fields and vineyards. So much so, in fact, that Wilfong volunteered to host the first stop on the Aug. 19 tour.

“What it boils down to, is the Willamette Valley is blessed with weather that allows us to produce the best grass seed, wine grapes and blueberries in the world,” Wilfong said. “We’re really fortunate. So we just have to figure out a way to make it all work together and make it all fit.”

On the tour, chemical dealers, licensed pesticide applicators, grass seed and wine grape growers addressed a gathering of legislators, state agency officials, county commissioners, extension agents and others.

Wilfong, of Wilfong Farms in Dallas, Ore., said he takes several steps to avoid damaging wine grapes when spraying broadleaf herbicides. Among them, he, at times, sprays at less than optimum timing to avoid applying compounds during bud break in grapes, uses nonvolatile formulations of herbicides and adds anti-drift agents to tankmixes.

Katie Fast, a neighbor of Wilfong, said she and her husband, Kirk, alert neighboring wine grape grower Dave Coelho when they are going to spray, and tell him what compounds they plan to apply.

“Working with our neighbors cooperatively is very important to us,” Fast said. “It is time that we are taking out of our day, and it takes effort, but I think it is important.”

Coehlo told participants he appreciates hearing from the Fasts, particularly during bud break.

Wine grapes are susceptible to herbicide injury at several points during a growing season, said Alex Cabrera of the OVS subsidiary Results Partners, but never more so than during bud break.

Injury at that point not only affects the current year’s grape crop, but also the next year’s crop and possibly subsequent years’ crops, he said.

“That early-season is very delicate,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera’s presentation at the second stop on the tour was followed by a presentation from Bill Hubbell, general manager of Wilco-Winfield. Hubbell showed growers examples of application technology available to reduce herbicide drift, including interlock nozzles.

“You still have wind issues to deal with,” Hubbell said, “but you can get a lot more control of your application.”

Bob Eccles of Wilbur-Ellis Co. told participants the optimal conditions for spraying are when wind is blowing away from sensitive areas at a speed of between 4 and 10 mph. At less than 4 mph, the chances of volatilization are increased, and drift issues come into play when applying pesticides at wind speeds in excess of 10 mph, he said.

Eccles also advised growers to read pesticide labels.

“There is a lot of new information on those labels,” he said, including information on how droplet size can affect spray quality, and other tidbits growers can use to their advantage.”

Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, who participated in the tour, said she was pleased to see the wine grape and grass seed growers working to resolve what at times has been a contentious issue.

“I think that both sides are to be commended to be willing to talk to each other about their concerns and take the next step to do this tour,” she said.

“Our whole focus is co-existence,” she said. “The best people to solve these issues are the people that are out on the ground.

“There is so much diversity in Oregon agriculture: There is no way that from the top down that we can prescribe ways for neighbors and farmers to get along,” she said.

Oregon’s Mount Emily wolves strike again, kill another sheep

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

For the second time in August and third time since June, Oregon’s Mount Emily wolf pack is blamed for killing a sheep in the northeast corner of the state.

A herder on Aug. 15 found a partially consumed sheep in a timbered area of Nine Mile Ridge, in Umatilla County. The site was near a bedding ground on public land.

Wildlife biologists examined the carcass. The sheep’s stomach and thoracic cavity had been eaten, as had muscle and tissue from the neck, ribs, shoulders and front legs. Bite mark size and placement were consistent with a wolf attack, according a report by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

GPS data from a collared wolf showed at least one pack member was in the area when the attack most likely occurred. Previous ODFW investigations showed pack members killed sheep Aug. 4 and June 22.

Wildfire season ‘new normal,’ Forest Service chief says; Brown sends in National Guard

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The chief of the U.S. Forest Service says the intense wildfire season ravaging the West and maxing out fire crews and equipment is “the new normal.”

Chief Tom Tidwell was in John Day on Wednesday visiting the Canyon Creek fire, which burned 36 homes last week in its initial wind-driven run before more than 600 firefighters started corralling it.

He says the succession of intense fire seasons that tax firefighting resources shows the need for continuing to thin forests to make them less vulnerable to fire.

Meanwhile, with civilian fire crews maxed out, Gov. Kate Brown is deploying 125 national guard troops to help fight the 11 large wildfires burning across Oregon.

Incident commanders figure they would have had more than 1,500 personnel on site — more than 2 1/2 times the number currently fighting the fire — if not for the multitude of other fires raging across Oregon and the West.

The Canyon Creek Complex is now 48,201 acres and remains uncontained. Another bout of high winds is in the forecast Friday, which should keep flames spreading quickly.

Earlier in the day, Oregon State Forester Doug Decker and Tidwell joined Brown during a visit with victims who lost their homes to the Canyon Creek fire. The Grant County Sheriff’s Office now estimates 36 homes burned to the ground. No injuries have been reported.

“There has been some tremendous work done to get everyone out safely,” Tidwell said.

By Wednesday afternoon, activity once again increased on the fire lines. Crews along Canyon Creek Lane were forced to retreat to the west side of Wickiup Campground as a giant plume of smoke lifted high over the ridge. Farther south, the town of Seneca, population 200, is on early watch for evacuation notices.

On the opposite side of the road, flames also crept in short grass and logs, occasionally jumping high enough to reach the lower branches of pines. Safety officers kept firefighters back to avoid becoming inadvertently trapped.

“It’s just how extreme it gets so quickly,” said Mike Gorsuch with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Damon Simmons, fire information officer, said it is easy for crews to lose their situational awareness and become surrounded if they are not careful.

Simmons, a lieutenant with Portland Fire and Rescue, said all agencies are doing everything they can to contain the fire with the resources they have at their disposal.

George Plaven of EO Media Group contributed to this report.

Boardman transmission line may cross Navy range

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

EO Media Group

PENDLETON, Ore. — Idaho Power is asking to build a portion of its proposed Boardman to Hemingway Transmission Line on the U.S. Navy’s bombing range south of Boardman to avoid interfering with nearby farms.

The company, based in Boise, has requested an easement from the Navy to place approximately 10 miles of transmission lines on the west side of Bombing Range Road — which splits the Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility to the west and a half-dozen irrigated farms to the east.

The preferred route spans five Eastern Oregon counties and more than 300 miles, beginning at a proposed Bonneville Power Administration substation east of Boardman, Oregon, and ending at the existing Hemingway Transmission Station in southwest Idaho.

Part of the project’s Morrow-Umatilla segment includes an alternative that shows lines running down the east side of Bombing Range Road, drawing loud criticism from landowners and county officials who say the towers would take acres of high-value agriculture out of production.

The issue became so contentious the Oregon Farm Bureau helped craft a bill in the legislature that would have required utilities to study overhead transmission routes to avoid productive farmland. That bill ultimately died in committee.

Mitch Colburn, engineering leader on 500-kilovolt projects for Idaho Power, said they have worked for several months with local stakeholders to come up with a plan that sticks Boardman to Hemingway on the west side of Bombing Range Road.

“We would avoid constructing a line on landowner property that could ultimately remove acres of production due to reduced land availability and equipment operability,” Colburn said.

But, in order to do that, Idaho Power needs a stamp of approval from the Navy.

Numerous officials and landowners signed on to a letter of support sent July 10 to Capt. Michael Nortier, commanding officer for Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington, supporting a Navy easement for Boardman to Hemingway on the west side of Bombing Range Road.

If that easement is approved, Idaho Power would build roughly 10 miles of line along the eastern edge of the bombing range, which would replace an existing 69-kilovolt BPA line on the property.

Umatilla Electric Cooperative owns and operates a 115-kilovolt line on private property across the road, and would cooperate with BPA to maintain electrical service for customers displaced by the removal of the 69-kilovolt line.

Towers would follow the Navy’s requested height limit of 100 feet to avoid conflicts with military operations, according to Idaho Power. The Boardman Bombing Range is currently used as the principal training ground for Boeing EA-18G Growler aircraft based at Whidbey Island.

Colburn said he hasn’t received a clear answer yet from the Navy. Rick McArdle, community planning liaison officer for the Navy’s Northwest Training Range Complex, did not return a call for comment.

Jerry Rietmann, co-owner of the Ione-based Wheatridge Wind Energy, said the plan would make best use of both energy corridors to meet the region’s power needs.

The route along the east side of Bombing Range Road could also become a singular site for new wind energy transmission, Rietmann said. Wheatridge Wind Energy is proposing a 500-megwatt wind farm in southern Morrow and Umatilla counties.

“The different wind companies have been working on a single-use electrical corridor to the Longhorn Substation,” Rietmann said. “It would have some impact, but not the kind of impact Boardman to Hemingway would have.”

Don Rice, director of operations at the 24,000-acre Boardman Tree Farm, said the action will take compromise on everyone’s part, but appears to be the most promising solution available.

“It’s the only plan the parties have been able to coalesce around,” Rice said “The key to making it all work is an agreement from the Navy.”

Colburn said it was good for Idaho Power to hear from communities during the recent public comment period, and fully understand where landowners were coming from.

“We are satisfied,” he said. “We’ll find a way to minimize impacts while at the same time achieving our project’s objectives.”

The Boardman-to-Hemingway project is expected to cost $880-$940 million, and come online by 2020.

Weather, low prices hampers PGG turnaround

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Pendleton Grain Growers in Eastern Oregon has “been through a real challenge” in recent years but is not in danger of going out of business, the company’s general manager said.

Rick Jacobson, responding to community murmurs that bubbled up following what was a poor wheat harvest for some growers, said the co-op is “way ahead of where we were last year,” when PGG lost nearly $8 million.

The co-op sold or closed several divisions, laid off employees, reduced excess inventory, restructured its debts into a new loan package and obtained a $20 million line of credit in response to the financial problems. Jacobson said in June that PGG was positioned to make a profit in 2015.

But a lack of moisture and intense heat early in the season “pinched” dryland wheat crops for some PGG growers, resulting in yield reductions of 25 to 30 percent and protein levels higher than exporters prefer. Meanwhile, the price dropped and Gavilon, a grain handling company owned by the Japanese firm Marubeni Corp., opened a truck transfer station in Union County, giving growers another option for selling wheat.

Jacobson acknowledged the combination has complicated PGG’s comeback. He is not sure the co-op will be profitable this year.

“It’s not helpful to have an off crop and it’s not helpful to have another grain company in our backyard, but that’s the life and times of a business,” Jacobson said.

“We’re not going to fold, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Jacobson said the soft white wheat price is in the range of $5.75 per bushel this year, compared to $7 last year.

“Most businesses can’t take those kinds of hits,” he said. “When yields are off and the price it low, it puts a lot of pressure on the grower.”

But Jacobson, a former NORPAC executive recruited out of retirement in 2012 to stabilize PGG, said the co-op is in the best cash flow position it’s been in for a long time. The company recently signed an agreement with McCoy Grain Terminal to do some wheat marketing for PGG, he said.

An industry insider who spoke on background said PGG and neighboring co-op Morrow County Grain Growers face increased competition from grain handlers with deeper pockets and that are looking to expand their territory. In tight years, companies that offer 10 cents more per bushel may attract growers even if those companies don’t offer other services such as fuel and fertilizer, the insider said.

He asked not to be identified because he works with growers and co-ops.

Pendleton Grain Growers “didn’t attend to business as well as they should have” in the past but appears to have made progress, he said.

“I don’t think they’re in danger of going under, they’re better off now,” he said.

Updated count shows 36 homes destroyed by Oregon wildfire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Grant County Sheriff’s Office says 36 homes have been destroyed by an Eastern Oregon wildfire — 10 more than previously reported.

Gov. Kate Brown plans to meet Wednesday with victims of the fire near John Day and visit the command post where crews are overseeing the effort to contain the blaze that has charred 67 square miles, mostly on the Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon.

The Oregonian reports that fire commanders told a community meeting at Grant Union High School that crews have concentrated on protecting a string of homes tucked in a small river canyon south of John Day. Shifting winds pushed the fire toward homes earlier thought safe.

Oregon cranberry harvest gets off to the earliest start in North America

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

At this rate, the Thanksgiving turkey will show up on Halloween.

At least one cranberry grower on the Southern Oregon coast began harvest this week, up to two or three weeks earlier than normal. Grower Charlie Ruddell of Randolph Cranberries Inc. believes his harvest will mark the earliest date commercial cranberries have ever left the Bandon receiving station, which he said wasn’t scheduled to open until Sept. 21. A spokeswoman for Ocean Spray, the cooperative of which Ruddell is a grower-member, said his harvest is the first in North America for 2015.

Spokeswoman Kellyanne Dignan said Ocean Spray has no issue with opening the receiving station so early. “If the berries are ready to come in, as a co-op we are open to receiving them,” she said.

Cranberries are judged ready for harvest based on color, size, firmness and sugar content, which is expressed in the term “brix.” The timing of reaching that stage varies, Dignan said. “Mother Nature makes that decision.”

Ruddell attributes the early harvest start to three things: The new variety he planted, Demoranville, which was developed by Rutgers University, is earlier than other varieties. Second, the plants are two and three seasons old, and young plants tend to bear fruit sooner than more mature cranberries. Finally, like many other crops in the Pacific Northwest, warm weather has pushed harvest up by a couple weeks.

Unlike many other parts of the Northwest, Bandon has adequate water this summer, Ruddell said. At harvest time, growers typically flood cranberry bogs with about 18 inches of water and churn the water to loosen the berries. The berries float to the surface, where growers gather them up.

After cleaning at Ocean Spray’s Bandon receiving station, the cranberries will be trucked to a company processing plant in Markham, Wash. Dignan, the co-op spokeswoman, said they’ll either be processed into “craisins,” which are dried, sweetened cranberries, or used to make cranberry juice or sauce.

The USDA has projected strong cranberry harvests for Oregon and Washington. Oregon growers may top the 500,000 barrels they produced in 2014. Washington growers may produce 186,000 barrels, the most in a decade. A barrel equals 100 pounds of cranberries.

Prices vary, but Oregon’s cranberry production is ranked 38th in value among the state’s crops and was worth about $12 million in 2013.

Celebration of life planned for Chauncey M. Hubbard

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MONROE, Ore. — Friends and family are welcome to a celebration of life in honor of Chauncey M. Hubbard at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.

He died April 24 at age 96.

He was born Oct. 27, 1918, in Spur, Texas, to Chauncey Mulks Hubbard and Mary Jane (White) Hubbard. In 1939, the family moved to Monroe, Ore., where young Chauncey lived for the rest of his life. He farmed and raised Hampshire sheep with his father before starting out on his own.

Chauncey was preceded in death by daughter Marilyn Hubbard Reedy; mother and father Chauncey Mulks and Mary Jane Hubbard; and wife Kleva June (Lindseth).

He is survived by the mother of his children, Ruth Kaye (Cooper) Hubbard; daughters Suzanne and Julianne Hubbard; sons Kerry and Steven Hubbard; 10 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

His shepherd, Gus Cuevas, and his family were Chauncey’s legs, arms and back in the later years.

The celebration will be held at Hubbard Memorial Park, 27511 W. Ingram Island Road, Monroe, Ore. For more information, call Cuevas at 541-554-1439.

Medical records sought in pesticide lawsuit

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The lead plaintiff in a lawsuit over off-site pesticide spraying in Oregon’s Curry County has allegedly ignored requests to turn over his medical records.

In 2013, a helicopter company sprayed residential properties near Gold Beach with herbicides intended for nearby forestlands, resulting in the Oregon Department of Agriculture suspending its applicator license.

Seventeen residents filed a complaint against the helicopter company, Pacific Air Research, as well as the logging firms overseeing the operation and the owners of the timber properties that were treated.

They claim to be suffering from serious health problems from being sprayed with 2,4-D and triclopyr and seek at least $100,000 per plaintiff in damages.

Two of the defendants, Crook Timberlands LLC and Barnes & Associates, recently filed a motion to compel the lead plaintiff, John Burns, to turn over medical records and other documents related to the injuries he allegedly suffered from the herbicide incident.

The motion claims that Burns has failed to respond to the request for information since May, necessitating a court order.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 28 and a trial in the overall case is set for Jan. 11-27, 2016, in gold Beach.

Capital Press was unable to reach Burns’ attorney for comment.

The legal dispute caught the attention of Oregon’s agricultural industry because it initially challenged the constitutionality of the state’s “right to farm” law, which prohibits lawsuits against common farming and forestry practices.

The judge dismissed that earlier version of the complaint because the defendants hadn’t raised the “right to farm” law as a defense, so allowing the plaintiffs to challenge the statute was premature.

The plaintiffs refiled their complaint without raising the “right to farm” issue, and it’s currently unclear whether the defendants will rely on the statute.

Aside from spurring litigation, the Curry County spray incident also prompted lawmakers to propose new restrictions on pesticides in Oregon.

A bill that heightened fines for violations, created no-spray buffers and devoted more resources to pesticide investigations was passed earlier this year.

More Oregon watersheds receive added regulatory oversight

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon’s farm regulators will be paying closer attention to water quality problems in seven new watersheds under an expansion of their “strategic implementation area” program.

Traditionally, the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s water quality investigations were driven by complaints, but the agency worried that this approach didn’t consistently uncover problems.

The agency has more recently been self-initiating its water quality compliance efforts in “strategic implementation areas,” with waterways in Wasco and Clackamas counties serving as early test cases.

Relying on aerial photographs and other information, regulators identify problems — such as streams denuded of vegetation or impacted by manure runoff — and notify the landowners, who are encouraged to seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

“There is a regulatory backstop, but in our experience, we don’t typically need to go to that,” said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

The program is now being rolled out in additional watersheds:

• Three Mile Creek in Wasco County.

• Upper Johnson Creek in Multnomah County.

• Indian Ford Creek in Deschutes County.

• Wagner Creek in Jackson County.

• Lundren Creek, Calvin Creek and Fishhawk Creek in Columbia County.

• Lower Salt Creek in Polk County

• Portions of the North Lower Yamhill River in Yamhill County.

Regulators don’t have the resources to increase scrutiny of all Oregon watersheds, so the program is focusing on particular streams and rivers for several reasons.

In some cases, the waterways were chosen because of the need to improve fish habitat, while others were included at the request of the local soil and water conservation district.

Another six or seven watersheds are expected to included in the program next year, Byers said.

State lawmakers bolstered the capacity of local districts to assist landowners with $1 million allocated for watershed enhancement, he said.

“They are the technical assistance on the ground, if needed,” said Byers.

Wildfires stretch NW firefighting resources

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Crews are scrambling to gain control of a nightmarish wildfire that’s devoured more than two dozen homes, scattered livestock and knocked out power less than a mile south of John Day.

The Canyon Creek Complex has grown to 40,132 acres since it was sparked Wednesday by lightning and spread dramatically by high winds that swept through Eastern Oregon on Friday.

At least 26 homes have burned to the ground in the fire’s path of destruction, and the Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative reports the power is still out for 106 John Day-area customers.

On Monday, the fire continued to move down Little Canyon Mountain to the south and east into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness in the Malheur National Forest. Charli Bowden, fire information officer, said firefighters are digging line around populated areas to protect what structures they can.

“Our number one concern is structural protection,” Bowden said.

More than 200 residents have been told to evacuate immediately or prepare to evacuate. Those who stay must deal with borderline unhealthful air and have been asked to conserve electricity where possible.

Ned Ratterman, director of engineering and operations for the electric co-op, said it will take an extended period of time to restore power in the region.

There are four transmission lines that feed into John Day and Canyon City. OTEC crews brought in a 2.5-megawatt generator from Seattle as a precaution if all four lines were to go down. So far, the utility’s 138-kilovolt line out of Hines has withstood the heat.

“With the generator on site, we would be able to continue to feed the system enough power for critical emergency services, such as the hospital, gas service station and grocery supply,” Ratterman said. “Hopefully we will not need it now.”

The Canyon Creek Complex is the Northwest’s highest priority wildfire, with more than 400 personnel assigned to the inferno and more on the way.

And, while demand for fire resources has surged across the West, supply is quickly becoming tapped.

The Pacific Northwest is one of three regions nationwide under a wildfire Preparedness Level 5, which means there are more than 14 uncontained large fires exhausting local agencies.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise has given the Northwest top priority, though northern California and the northern Rocky Mountains are also at Preparedness Level 5, and the Great Basin region — made up of portions of southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah and northern Arizona — is at Level 4.

All together, there are approximately 95 large wildfires burning 1.1 million acres in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada and Colorado. Incident commanders are forced to compete for available firefighters and equipment.

“Most of the teams are not getting the support they want because resources are so thin,” said Kari Boyd-Peck, spokeswoman for the National Interagency Fire Center.

The situation is so dire that, for the first time since 2006, the Department of Defense has agreed to send 200 active duty personnel from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to assist firefighters.

In Oregon alone, 12 uncontained large fires are burning nearly 300,000 acres, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

Spokeswoman Koshare Eagle said the center prioritizes fires based first on threats to public safety, followed by threats to communities and infrastructure. Numerous fires meet those criteria, Eagle said, but because resources are so thin they have 60 orders for hotshot crews that have gone unfilled.

The majority of acres on fire — more than 225,000 — are also on fires that are less than 30 percent contained, Eagle said, which means they have a long way to go.

“The most challenging thing for the folks working here is knowing the need that’s out there, and not being able to get those resources sent out,” Eagle said. “It’s difficult on everyone.”

Given the amount of strain, Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order Monday suspending the hours of service rules that usually apply to trucks hauling fuel for firefighting aircraft.

There are 17 air tankers available for Northwest fires, stationed strategically across the region in Moses Lake, Washington, as well as La Grande and Redmond.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also weighed in, saying he will work with the state and U.S. Forest Service to make sure all available resources are deployed as quickly as possible.

Jim Whittington, a spokesman for the state Bureau of Land Management and regional Forest Service fire staff, said crews prepared well in advance for a difficult fire season based on a third consecutive year of drought and record-low snowpack last winter.

What’s made this year unusual, he said, is the intensity of the season in such a short period of time, with the region hammered by a perfect storm of lightning and wind over the past two weeks.

“There’s an intensity here that probably has not been matched in a number of years, or ever,” Whittington said.

So far, the Northwest has spent more than $167 million fighting fire in 2015. Nationwide, that total is $1.5 billion.

Joani Bosworth, spokeswoman for the Umatilla National Forest, said they are dealing with two fires, including the Grizzly Bear Complex in southeast Washington and a 70-acre Turner Basin Fire south of Ukiah. No structures are threatened, and she said both of those blazes are staffed with local crews.

But, if they pick up any more fires, Bosworth said they, like other agencies, could quickly outstretch their capacity.

“This year ranks at the top of the list for one of the most challenging years of fire suppression and resources,” she said. “And we still have a couple weeks of fire season ahead of us.”

Oregon State Fair prepares for its 150th anniversary

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Spokesman Dan Cox has a message for prospective attendees of this year’s Oregon State Fair: It’ll be fun.

“Fun is the No. 1 thing we have to offer Oregonians,” he said.

In honor of the fair’s 150th anniversary, general admission tickets will cost just $1.50 for kids and adults on the event’s opening day, Friday, Aug. 28. A fireworks display will be held nightly.

For agriculture fans, the fair’s biggest draw may well be the return of the Western Dairy Expo, and Jersey breeders are having their Western National in Salem, and expect to bring about 200 head of cattle to the fair, according to Dairy Superintendent Paul Lindow.

Farmers will exhibit more than 100 Holsteins and 65 specialty breeds, including Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Ayrshire. All six breeds will compete for the title of Supreme Overall Champion, and the winning cow’s owner will take home a $750 grand prize.

Lindow, whose family has exhibited at the state fair since 1923, said families should remember that an expo is not the same thing as a petting zoo.

“If people ask, most exhibitors don’t have a problem with petting,” he said. “There will also be six animals in individual stalls. If they want to be petted, they’ll stick their head out and let you. There are some pretty friendly animals in there.”

In the same vein, all dogs are welcome at the fair, except in the concert venue and livestock barn. Dog Town — a showcase of canine competition, agility and health and training expertise — has been relocated to a more central area this year.

“I haven’t seen a comment on cats,” said Cox, the spokesperson.

Musical performances will be held on 10 out of the 11 days, including four country acts, a faith group, ’80s rocker Pat Benatar and Portland alternative rock band Everclear. About 6,000 seats will be available on a first come-first served basis at no extra charge for each performance at the L.B. Day amphitheater.

VIP reserved seating is available for $25 to $35, depending on the show. So far, tickets for comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias have been the most popular, according to Cox.

At 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 5, the Fair’s Historic Horse Stadium will host a special performance of the BlackPearl Friesian Dance Troupe, a choreographed horse show set to music, The stadium was resurfaced early in 2015 to improve the footing.

Gerry Frank’s Chocolate Layer Cake Competition, which is itself celebrating its 56th anniversary, has been moved to the Creative Living Stage in Columbia Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6

Frank takes at least one bite out of every cake and keeps up a steady stream of entertaining commentary, according to Cox. He also keeps a bottle of Pepto-Bismol by his side, in case of emergencies.

“I think for folks who live in urban areas.… it’s a great opportunity to appreciate the ag role, which maybe doesn’t get its due,” Cox said. “If someone misses out on this part of the story and Oregon’s history, then they’re really missing out.”

The 150th Oregon State Fair starts Friday, Aug. 28 and runs through Labor Day weekend, ending on Monday, Sept. 7. The fair is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for seniors (age 62 and up) and kids aged 6 through 11. Younger children get in free. Parking is $5.

DNR calls out National Guard to battle Central Washington wildfire

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Washington Department of Natural Resources on Friday called out the National Guard to help battle an 18,000-acre blaze burning in southcentral Washington on the southeastern slopes of Mount Adams.

The Cougar Creek fire was one of many Northwest blazes that were stretching firefighting resources thin, according to the Northwest Coordination Center, which manages interagency firefighting. With the risk of fire high heading into the weekend, especially in Eastern Washington, the center warned that firefighting resources could be exhausted.

Other major Washington fires burning Friday included the 37,792-acre Wolverine fire near Lake Chelan and the 3,500-acre 9 Mile fire 6 miles east of Oroville near the Canadian border. The fire was started by a small plane crash that killed two people, The Associated Press reported.

Besides the Blackhawk helicopters, five 20-person National Guard hand crews were to arrive Sunday evening to join 350 firefighters already on the Cougar Creek fire. This is the first time this summer DNR has requested help from the National Guard, DNR spokeswoman Carrie McCausland said.

The fire was sparked by a lightning strike Aug. 10 about 6 miles northwest of Glenwood. The blaze has grown rapidly, with winds and a heavy load of bug-killed trees fueling its spread, according to DNR.

Also in Washington on Friday, the Paradise fire was burning 2,440 acres inside Olympic National Park. The 7,400-acre Stickpin fire was burning 14 miles northeast of Republic, and the 1,200-acre North Star fire was burning east of Omak.

In Oregon, the County Line 2 fire was burning 36,154 acres near Madras. Officers issued a voluntary evacuation notice for people at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort. Visitors to the Diamond Lake area in southern Oregon were told to prepare to leave if the 2,971-acre National Creek Complex burning 10 miles southwest of the lake spread.

Other large Oregon blazes Friday included the 34,774-acre Bendire Complex 15 miles north of Juntura, the 24,181-acre Stouts Creek fire 16 miles east of Canyonville and the 16,000-acre fire west of Durkee.

Owyhee Project Oregon irrigators nearly out of water

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

ONTARIO, Ore. — Farmers who get their irrigation water from the Owyhee Project in Eastern Oregon are almost out of water, nearly two months earlier than normal.

The Owyhee Reservoir’s gates are completely open and the last of the system’s available storage water is flowing out, said Owyhee Irrigation District Manager Jay Chamberlin.

The project provides water for 1,800 farms and 118,000 acres of irrigated land in Eastern Oregon and part of Southwestern Idaho.

“The system might be able to run about another (10 days),” Chamberlin said. “We’re on the last of our water.”

The system, which has 400 miles of canals and laterals, has about 20,000 acre-feet of usable storage water left.

“That might sound like a lot of water but when you have a system as big and long as ours, that’s a small amount,” Chamberlin said.

Farmers in this region can count on receiving irrigation water from the Owyhee system into October during normal years but the water has run out in August the past two years because of a lingering drought.

OID patrons receive an allotment of 4 acre feet of water during a normal year but the allotment was slashed to 1.6 acre feet this year and 1.7 acre feet last year.

Even though water is still flowing through the system, many farmers have already used up their allotment for this season.

This year’s water supply will last about 10 days longer than it did in 2014, mainly due to timely May rains that reduced demand and improved in-flows into the reservoir slightly, OID officials said.

“It’s a little bit better (this year) mainly because of those timely rains we had earlier this (season),” said OID board member and farmer Bruce Corn.

Nyssa farmer Craig Froerer said the fact that water will flow for almost two weeks longer than it did last year will significantly help the long-term condition of his permanent crops like mint and asparagus.

“That will make a huge difference for me,” he said.

Bill Buhrig, an Oregon State University cropping systems extension agent in Malheur County, said the far reaches of the Owyhee system, where he farms, went dry July 22 last year.

“We still had water in the ditch this morning,” he said Aug. 12. “You’re looking at three weeks longer this year than last year. That’s a long time.”

But the water situation in this area is still difficult and the combination of the reduced allotment and early end to the irrigation season has made things challenging for farmers, Corn said.

Corn, like other farmers in the region, left a lot of ground idle the last two years and planted more crops that require less water but are also less profitable.

“It’s not a good situation but people got by the best they could,” he said. “It looks like the crops that are growing for the most part are going to be able to be finished.”

State Land Board approves selling Elliott State Forest

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The State Land Board has approved selling the Elliott State Forest to a buyer who will agree to restrictive conditions: 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 unanimously endorsed a resolution Thursday in Salem to go forward with the sale.

The forest in the Coast Range north of Coos Bay has been running $1 million a year in the red because timber sales have been overturned for failing to protect fish and wildlife habitat.

“This action today comes after years of hard work and thorough consideration of input from a wide spectrum of interested citizens,” Department of State Lands director Mary Abrams said in a statement. “We believe the adopted protocol will allow the Land Board to meet their trustee responsibilities to the schoolchildren of Oregon through a transfer that balances economic and conservation values.”

A meeting is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Salem to provide potential buyers with specifics on the conditions of the sale.

The 140-square-mile forest was created in 1930 and 90 percent of it generates money for schools. It once produced $8 million a year for the Common School Fund. Attempts to increase logging to produce $13 million annually for schools failed. Lawsuits continually blocked timber sales on the grounds that they failed to maintain habitat for federally protected coho salmon and the marbled murrelet, a seabird that nests in big old trees.

Prospects for a timber company buying the forest with all the conditions attached seem unlikely. One potential scenario is that a public land trust would buy it and then sell it to the federal government, returning it to the Siuslaw National Forest, from which it originally came.

Selling even younger timber at a profit has become difficult because habitat protections adopted to dismiss a lawsuit from conservation groups impose buffers that cover young and old trees alike, leaving few blocks of timber suitable for sale, said Jim Paul, assistant director of the Department of State Lands.

An appraisal is upcoming, but the forest has been estimated to be worth between $285 million and $400 million, Paul added.

The Department of State Lands has until December 2016 to sell the forest with the conditions, at which point the board would take a new direction, potentially offering it for sale without conditions.

Dozens under evacuation orders near Baker County wildfires

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Transportation has reopened Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon after the freeway was closed Thursday afternoon in both directions between Baker City and Ontario due to a wildfire.

Residents of 57 homes in the area have been told to evacuate, with dozens more advised to be ready to leave.

Gov. Kate Brown invoked the Emergency Conflagration Act just before 3:30 a.m., mobilizing fire crews from across the state to protect the threatened structures.

Crews were on their way from Yamhill, Clatsop and Columbia counties, said Jamie Knight, an Oregon Department of Forestry spokeswoman. As of Wednesday night, the fire had charred 20 square miles. There were no reports of structural damage, Knight said.

“Fuels are very dry,” she said. “They’re in tough terrain with dry fuels and tough weather conditions, so all those things are lending themselves to the fire behavior that we’ve been experiencing and are expecting to experience.”

Between that fire and another nearby blaze, 57 homes were under immediate evacuation orders, 47 were told to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and 41 are in areas that could become threatened, said Stefanie Kirby with Baker County Emergency Management.

Meanwhile, officials said U.S. Highway 26 through Warm Springs has reopened to traffic after having been closed Wednesday because of fire. Sparks from an RV’s trailer that lost a wheel ignited over a half-dozen fires along the highway on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, KTVZ reported.

A double-wide home was destroyed, and evacuation orders were issued for several areas, said Clay Penhollow, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.


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