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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

USDA forecasts large Northwest cranberry crop

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon cranberry growers are expected to reap a record crop, while Washington farmers will have their largest harvest in a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted Thursday.

Across the U.S., cranberry farmers in five states, already sitting on a price-deflating surplus, will harvest 8.41 million barrels, a slight increase of 12,700 barrels over last year, the USDA forecasts.

Strong recent harvests in the U.S. and Canada have created a cranberry surplus, which the USDA has estimated will equal roughly 90 percent of annual sales a year from now. The surplus has driven prices below the cost of production for some farmers, particularly independent growers who don’t belong to the Ocean Spray cooperative.

Although the harvest isn’t expected to challenge the record-setting 2013 harvest of 8.95 million barrels, most cranberry-growing states will see production rise over last year, according to the USDA.

The USDA says Washington and Oregon growers have enjoyed favorable weather.

Oregon cranberry farmers, concentrated near the coast in Coos and Curry counties, will harvest an estimated 504,000 barrels, edging above last year’s record 500,000-barrel harvest. Each barrel represents 100 pounds.

“Every week they (growers) seem more encouraged by the crop,” said Don Kloft, Ocean Spray receiving station manager in Bandon, Ore.

Bandon cranberry grower Charlie Ruddell said he doubts Oregon’s harvest will set a record. Independent growers slightly outnumber cooperative members, and low prices have forced some to reduce investments in bogs or give up entirely, he said. “Some farms have been abandoned,” he said.

In Washington, where Ocean Spray members outnumber independent growers, the harvest is projected to jump from last year’s 156,000 barrels to 186,000 barrels. That would be the biggest crop since 2005, when farmers produced 187,000 barrels. The state record is 202,000 barrels set in 1994. Recent harvests have been much smaller.

Washington State University horticulturist Kim Patten, who heads the cranberry research center in Long Beach, said he agrees with the USDA’s forecast. “It’s in the ballpark; 180,000 to 200,000” barrels, he said. “It’s going to be a good crop.”

Growers who flood their bogs for harvest could face water shortages, however, he said. The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday categorized the Long Beach Peninsula and Grays Harbor County, where cranberry growers are concentrated, as being in an “extreme drought.”

Water also will be needed to guard against early fall frosts, Patten said. “It’s getting serious for some of these growers,” he said.

Growers in Wisconsin, the county’s No. 1 cranberry state, reported that a cold winter damaged bogs. Still, most Badger State farmers expected an average or slightly better than average harvest, according to the USDA.

The agency projects Wisconsin’s harvest will be 5.028 million barrels, a fraction more than last year’s 5.022 million. Wisconsin’s mammoth 6 million barrel harvest in 2013 was a leading contributor to the cranberry surplus.

In Massachusetts, some farmers are optimistic, while some are battling insects, according to the USDA. The state’s crop is expected to be 2.11 million, a 44,000 barrel increase. Only New Jersey is expected to see production decline, from 652,000 barrels in 2014 to 585,000 barrels.

Nationwide in 2014, a barrel fetched an average of $29.50, down from $46.90 in 2012, according to the USDA.

Idaho, Oregon ranchers fighting one of nation’s largest wildfires

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HOMEDALE, Idaho — Dozens of ranchers in Southwestern Idaho and Eastern Oregon are helping battle one of the nation’s largest wildfires.

In many cases, they’re fighting to defend their own livelihoods.

The wind-driven Soda fire had reached 200,000 acres as of late Aug. 12 and was spreading rapidly, driven by high winds, temperatures above 100 degrees and low humidity.

It’s burning mainly in Owyhee County but jumped across the Oregon border Aug. 12, where it has scorched at least 25,000 acres.

According to U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials, several breakout fires moved as fast as 1.5 miles in 8 minutes and some spot fires grew to 1,000 acres in 10 minutes.

The fire has destroyed tens of thousands of acres of grazing land and is threatening ranches that are scattered throughout the region.

Rancher Tim Mackenzie, who runs cattle from Homedale to Jordan Valley, Ore., said the fire has destroyed all of his spring range and it has destroyed all of the spring and summer range of eight other ranchers he knows.

He’s one of about 50 ranchers from two Rangeland Fire Protection Associations — one in Oregon and one in Idaho — who are helping fight the fire.

“It’s had a huge impact on me,” Mackenzie said. “It’s the worst one I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

The fire started close to Paul Nettleton’s ranch near Murphy but he has escaped unharmed so far because winds drove it away from his operation.

He said the fire has been devastating to some of his rancher neighbors.

“This fire is pretty scary,” Nettleton said. “Not only have they lost some ground, but probably a lot of cattle grazing in that area as well.”

BLM officials said protecting lives and property are their top priorities and after high winds caused the fire to explode the night of Aug. 11, firefighters fell back into defensive positions to protect ranches and other structures.

Steve Acarregui, BLM’s fire cooperative coordinator in Boise, said the volunteer RFPAs, which consist almost entirely of ranchers, have proven helpful in fighting the Soda fire.

“The (RFPA) program has exceeded my expectations,” he said about the groups’ efforts on this and other fires. “It’s been going really well.”

Acarregui spent part of the last three days with the RFPAs as they conducted burn-out operations and suppressed direct fire lines with fire engines and bulldozers.

“They have a vested interest in protecting the forage on federal land where they have grazing permits,” he said. “They want to keep that fire as small as possible to protect as much of that forage as possible for grazing. It’s a good deal for them ... and for taxpayers.”

BLM officials said much of the area where the fire is burning is considered primary sage grouse habitat.

The fire was likely caused by an Aug. 10 lighting strike, BLM officials said.

Hop estimate up 5.5 million pounds

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

MOXEE, Wash. — This fall’s U.S. hop crop is forecast at 80 million pounds by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

That’s up 13 percent from last year’s 71 million-pound crop and up 7 percent from a 74.5-million-pound estimate for this year given at the International Hop Growers’ Congress in Germany the week of July 27.

The NASS estimate, released Aug. 12, is dated Aug. 1.

Ann George, administrator of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, both in Moxee, said 74.5 million-pound estimate that she gave at the International Congress was based on a survey of growers taken when the crop was just starting to bloom and several weeks earlier than the NASS survey.

She said the NASS number may be more accurate but that no one really knows until the crop is baled.

“I think it will end up being between the two estimates,” she said. “The big message is we don’t anticipate it being smaller (than last year).”

Some national stories speculated about a hop shortage due to heat and drought. In response to that, George said she issued a press release July 29 about the 74.5-million-pound estimate.

“We wanted to reassure our customer base and the public that we wouldn’t have a tremendous hop shortage,” she said.

At the international meeting, it was evident Europe’s hop crop will be down, perhaps significantly, because of drought and wind, Doug MacKinnon, a Yakima hop broker, said at the time.

A shortage in Europe adds market pressures since there’s more U.S. craft brewer demand for aroma hops than there is supply.

Even though U.S. production is up it remains short relative to craft brewer demand, George said.

Some aroma varieties will be short because demand is growing faster than the varieties can be expanded, she said. It takes about two years to get new hop yards into production, she said.

One reason overall yields are forecast to be down this year is that there are a lot of “baby” acres that are not yet producing, George said.

The switch from alpha to aroma varieties affects yields because aroma yield less, she said.

Heat and drought are additional factors reducing yield this year, she said. The larger was heat affecting more of the crop in the Yakima Valley in June when it was blooming, she said. Some hops entered the heat a little drought stressed, she said. Lack of water has been an issue only in portions of the valley served by the Roza and Wapato irrigation districts, not the entire valley, she said.

NASS estimates 57,969,000 pounds for Washington, 11,571,900 for Oregon and 10,447,500 for Idaho. The three states comprise the U.S. crop.

Total area strung for harvest is 43,987 acres, up 16 percent from 2014, NASS said. Yield is forecast at 1,818 pounds per acre, 50 pounds less than last year.

Between 70 and 80 percent of the nation’s hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. Harvest typically starts in late August and runs through September.

Divers prepare to yank irrigation-clogging weed

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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

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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

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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.


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