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Oregon timber sale draws protest from environmental groups

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Environmentalist groups have stalled a timber sale in Benton County that calls for the cutting of about 8 million board feet of timber.

The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports the U.S. Board of Land Management awarded the Rainbow Bridge timber sale Sept. 16 to Freres Lumber for $2.6 million, giving the company the right to log the 135-acre parcel near Alpine.

But the sale won’t become final until a resolution is reached with Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands and the Benton Forest Coalition.

Most of the timber cut would be generated through variable retention harvest, a technique touted for its environmental benefits. The trees that would be left standing would be clustered together with large areas left open.

Environmentalists argue that forest openings should be created naturally by fire, storms and insects.

ODFW won’t authorize killing wolves despite multiple attacks

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon wildlife officials won’t authorize killing members of the Mount Emily wolf pack despite five confirmed attacks on a sheep herd since June.

Under the state’s wolf recovery plan, which moved into Phase 2 this year, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife can authorize lethal control of wolves after two confirmed “depredations,” or one confirmed attack and three attempts.

But ODFW chose not to in this case, despite four documented attacks by the Mount Emily pack in August and a fifth in June.

At least seven sheep and a guard dog were killed in pack attacks investigated June 22, Aug. 4, Aug. 15, Aug. 24 and Aug. 27. The attacks would have qualified for lethal control even under Phase 1 of the recovery plan, which required four confirmed depredations over a six-month period.

As required under the wolf plan, producer Jeremy Bingham of Utopia Land and Livestock formally asked ODFW for “lethal relief from the wolves that are massacring our sheep.”

The department, which hasn’t authorized killing any wolves since two in 2011, turned him down. In a Sept. 25 letter to Bingham, ODFW wildlife biologist Mark Kirsch said non-lethal measures had worked since the last attack in late August.

“We are sorry your experience with Oregon’s forest lands has been problematic this year,” Kirsch concluded in his letter to Bingham. “It is our hope you complete your grazing season with no further loss.”

Department officials also noted Bingham would be removing his sheep from the area in October under the terms of his seasonal grazing permit in the Umatilla National Forest.

Department spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said the Mount Emily pack now is frequenting the central and southern part of their known range area, and the sheep are in the northeastern edge. Three of the pack members wear radio collars that allow biologists to track their movements.

Bingham is furious, and said ODFW officials are dishonest and “two-faced politicians.”

“It’s unfortunate I trusted them,” he said by text to the Capital Press. “The only interest to them is that the wolves eat the economy of Eastern Oregon.”

Bingham said he’s been patient and followed Oregon’s wolf plan rules in the face of repeated losses to wolves over the past two years. He estimates he’s lost more than 100 ewes. One guard dog was killed this year; in 2014 two were injured and another disappeared and is presumed dead.

“We have not harmed any wolves but we are not in the business of sacrificing assets to feed (ODFW’s) pet dogs,” Bingham said by text.

ODFW investigates reported livestock attacks but follows a strict protocol that includes examining wounds and measuring bite marks and tracks before confirming wolves were responsible. ODFW depredation reports do not correspond to Bingham’s claimed losses. He said he didn’t report many attacks; other producers have repeatedly said livestock often disappear in wolf country. They suspect wolves kill many more cattle and sheep than are confirmed in depredation reports.

Bingham is general manager of Utopia Land and Livestock, a family company based in Burley, Idaho. He grazes sheep in Idaho, and for the past three seasons held a grazing permit in the Umatilla National Forest in Oregon as well. The permit allowed him to graze 2,000 ewes and lambs for a little over four months. He must remove them from public land Oct. 9.

The Mount Emily pack, which at the end of 2014 was thought to consist of seven wolves, has been a problem.

In September 2014 wolves attacked Bingham’s sheep on consecutive nights, killing a total of eight sheep and injuring two of five guard dogs; a third dog was missing, according to the initial ODFW report. The incident was the first time herd dogs were attacked in Oregon, the department said at the time.

Bingham said he’s taken steps to fend off wolves. He hired a herder who is with the sheep 24 hours a day, placed five to seven guard dogs with each sheep band, penned sheep at night on occasion and deployed alarm lights and a siren that is activated by a wolf’s radio collar. He said a federal Wildlife Services agent voluntarily sat with the herd overnight several times.

Bingham said Wildlife Services and the U.S. Forest Service, which administers the grazing allotment, have been “incredible” agencies to work with. He said ODFW led him to believe there was recourse for the wolf attacks but now won’t do what’s allowed under the state plan. He said allowing wolves to kill multiple sheep is “just training pups to be chronic depredators.” He predicted elk and antelope populations will decline due to wolves and said attacks on humans will happen.

“ODFW has an agenda and it is only about politics, not science,” Bingham said.

Oregon official explains defense of Clean Water Act rules

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The State of Oregon is defending the federal government’s new Clean Water Act regulations in court because they’re expected to simplify the statute’s administration, according to a top state official.

It’s possible that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules will allow state officials to issue Clean Water Act permits, which are currently dispensed by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Richard Whitman, natural resources policy adviser for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

The regulations have met with controversy because opponents fear the new definition of “waters of the United States” will significantly increase the federal government’s jurisdiction over waterways on private property.

Multiple states have filed lawsuits challenging the rules, while Oregon and several other states have intervened as defendants in support of the regulatory change.

“This is an issue that has frankly been politicized nationally,” Whitman said before the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

Oregon officials believe the amount of water under the federal government’s purview will only increase by 3 to 5 percent under the new regulations, he said.

“As a technical and policy matter, we do not believe the rule is a major expansion of federal jurisdiction,” Whitman said.

Congress decreed that “waters of the U.S.” fall under Clean Water Act jurisdiction but did not define the term, leaving that problem to agencies and courts, he said.

The matter was the subject of three U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the most recent in 2006.

Because the justices disagreed on how to determine whether a water body is regulated, the case established three conflicting standards, Whitman said.

“You have complete confusion in the lower courts about which of these three tests is the right one,” he said.

The EPA’s new rules are meant to clear up some of that confusion by reducing the number of waterways that must be examined on a case-by-case basis, Whitman said.

Most agricultural activities continue to be exempt from Clean Water Act regulations, he said.

The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, which is involved in litigation against the rules, is disappointed that the State of Oregon intervened as a defendant without consulting with agricultural groups, said Jerome Rosa, the organization’s executive director.

Rosa said he disagrees with Whitman’s characterization of the regulations, which OCA thinks will be extremely detrimental to ranchers.

“We don’t see it that way,” he said.

Cougar kills livestock in N. Willamette Valley

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

CANBY, Ore. — A cougar has been killing livestock and worrying families near this north Willamette Valley town.

Stefani Carlson, whose husband, Paul, owns and operates 4:8 Financial, an investment services firm in Canby, said they lost two alpacas and three lambs last week. Another neighbor lost three sheep around the same time, and another nearby family lost two llamas and a pygmy goat, Carlson said.

“Everyone knows it’s funky out there, a weird feeling out there,” Carlson said. “Even cattle are acting funny out here. (One of our neighbors), Nancy Bennett, said one of her llamas jumped over one of their fences and hurt its leg badly trying to protect (their livestock from) something out there.”

Bennett said her llama has been on “super-high alert” ever since Sept. 9, when the cougar first killed her livestock.

USDA Wildlife Services sent out a trapper who set bait near the dead animal carcasses to try and catch the cougar, but the effort has not been successful.

USDA officials were not immediately available for comment.

Farmers seek lawmakers’ help on transmission line

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM — Farmers near Boardman, Ore., hope state legislators will influence the U.S. Navy on the siting of a proposed transmission line.

Growers in the area fear that the power line — which Idaho Power plans to build from Boardman to Melba, Idaho — will take roughly $30 million of irrigated farmland out of production.

An alternative to this possibility involves repurposing an existing easement that runs across the Navy’s bombing range near Boardman.

The size of the easement’s footprint would not have to be increased, but the decision involves federal action and the Navy doesn’t see the issue as a high priority, said Craig Reeder, vice president of Hale Farms.

Reeder asked members of the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water to tell the Navy that the transmission line should not be built over farmland that’s crucial to the region’s economy.

The Navy has a requirement that the easement can only be repurposed if there are no viable alternatives, but a federal environmental study examines siting the transmission line on farmland in the region, said Don Rice, director of North American operations for Greenwood Resources, which owns poplar tree farms in the area.

The state government could help convince the Navy that this option isn’t actually viable, he said.

The entirety of the project spans more than 300 miles and is expected to cost up to $1.2 billion, said Mitch Colburn, engineering leader for Idaho Power.

The transmission line is needed to improve the electrical grid’s reliability and facilitate the expansion of renewable energy in the region, he said.

Aside from the Idaho Power transmission line, the region is facing other power line issues as wind turbine projects must find way to connect to the Bonneville Power Administration’s electrical grid along the Columbia river, said Bob Levy, who farms near Hermiston, Ore.

There’s currently a lack of planning, with wind energy projects winning approval from regulators before their developers figure out transmission routes, he said.

To compare, a builder cannot construct a house without showing how it will connect to existing infrastructure, Levy said.

The state should set a policy to plan for power corridors and to protect high-value irrigated farmland, said Reeder.

Currently, decisions are made based on soil type — while the sandy soils in the Boardman area are not considered the highest quality, they’re nonetheless capable of growing high-value crops when irrigated, he said.

Wallowa County horse killed by elk, says ODFW

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

When a horse turned up dead earlier this month in rural Wallowa County after an apparent bloody struggle, wolves were investigated as the primary target.

The evidence, however, soon pointed to a much more unlikely suspect.

Wildlife officials determined the horse, which was found dead Sept. 18 in a pasture along the upper Imnaha River, had actually been gored by a bull elk — a scenario they admit is extremely rare, though not entirely unheard of.

The unusual ruling is tough for some local ranchers to believe in an area where suspicion of wolves runs high. But the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife says its examination clears the predators this time, and places the responsibility on the antlers of a feisty elk.

“It is breeding season for elk. Bulls are very aggressive this time of year,” said Mike Hansen, district wildlife biologist with ODFW in Enterprise.

The horse was initially found by elk hunters in a 20-acre pasture on the Grouse Creek Ranch, about 18 miles upriver from the town of Imnaha. ODFW arrived the same day to investigate, noticing the carcass was mostly still intact except for a piece of intestine on the ground 40 yards away.

After surveying the scene, Hansen said they identified elk and horse tracks indicating the animals had been in a tussle. There was a single half-inch cut on the horse’s nose, deep puncture wound into the groin and scrapes on its side matching the size and space of elk antlers.

The horse struggled and slid down the hillside, Hansen said, before it died of internal bleeding. There were no predator tracks of any kind in the area, and no sign of wolf bite marks.

Roblyn Brown, ODFW assistant wolf program coordinator, said elk attacks on livestock are very rare but have happened before. She cited an incident several years ago in southwest Oregon where a young spike bull charged a heifer and punctured the cow’s lungs and liver.

“All we can do is follow our investigation protocol,” Brown said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services also agreed with ODFW that it was an elk, not a wolf, that killed the horse on Grouse Creek Ranch.

Despite the conclusion, several ranchers have their doubts. Eric Porter, who owns the ranch where the horse was killed, said the location of injuries were typical with those of a wolf bite.

This wasn’t the first time Porter was disappointed with the outcome of an investigation. In May, one of his calves was killed on the property, with wolf tracks spotted nearby and GPS coordinates placing a collared wolf in the area.

Yet even with that evidence, Porter said ODFW ruled the incident a “probable” wolf attack since bite marks appeared to be from a coyote.

“All the evidence was there, but they wouldn’t confirm it,” Porter said.

Oregon lists wolves as endangered species east of highways 395, 78 and 95, and it remains illegal to kill a wolf except under specific circumstances outlined in the state’s wolf management and conservation plan.

Todd Nash, a rancher in Enterprise and wolf committee chairman for the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said producers are frustrated by how difficult it is for them to prove wolves are responsible for attacking livestock. He sees the elk ruling as a huge stretch.

“I can sympathize with not finding wolf tracks, but because you find elk tracks in the area, that’s what you come up with? It’s crazy,” Nash said.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will consider removing wolves from the state endangered species list in Eastern Oregon in the coming months, based on the department’s recommendation. Conservation groups argue the species’ population remains fragile and in need of protection.

Until then, Nash said producers need to make sure they continue to follow the rules. Oregon State Police is investigating two wolves recently killed in Wallowa County, known as the Sled Springs pair, found 50 yards apart from each other. An OSP spokesman told the Oregonian the deaths “do not appear to be natural,” and poaching is being considered as a factor.

Nash said neither he nor the cattlemen’s association would ever condone poaching, but added ranchers are tired of being the only ones asked to play by the rules.

“I certainly do not encourage people to take matters into their own hands,” Nash said. “We still need to do the things required of us. It’s our obligation as OCA members to work through this.”

Paulette Pyle speaks up for agriculture

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Paulette Pyle says she is retired after 35 years as grass roots director of the lobbyist group Oregonians for Food and Shelter, but that may not be possible.

For one thing, she works 40 hours a month while new Executive Director Katie Fast gets her feet on the ground. “I told Katie I want to make sure she’s successful,” Pyle said.

Beyond that, her status as mentor and model — especially to women in agriculture and forestry — may not allow her to simply slide out of the limelight.

The Capital Press caught up with Pyle as she was once again on the move, this time to the Oregon Farm Bureau’s annual golf tournament. A sampling of the conversation:

Her best accomplishment?

“You mean what WE’VE done and what WE’VE accomplished?” Pyle corrected, emphasizing that a coalition of people have worked together to represent producers.

“I think the highlight for me has been engaging in a profession that is my passion,” she said. “Helping ag and forestry is very rewarding.”

She regrets that in an era of highly partisan politics, the people who supply society’s food, fiber and shelter have been “demonized.”

And yet there appears to be growing recognition, at least among legislators and agency policy-makers, that rural Oregon and natural resource industries are critical parts of the state’s economic structure. Producers have been able to make the case that their viewpoints deserve consideration, Pyle agreed.

“I think, politically, we have,” she said. “When we have time to tell our story and present the facts, we do prevail. It’s a struggle and it’s hard work all the time, but we can get it done.”

She has three major concerns over the next couple years. At the top of her list is the urban-rural divide.

“The biggest challenge is for rural Oregon to stay in business,” Pyle said. “Life begins and ends with politics, it’s a true statement. Until urban legislators take the time to understand the challenges of the less populated part of the state, that will be the number one challenge.”

Second on her list is another divide, this time between various types of farmers, “Initiated by our organic friends,” Pyle said. Oregonians for Food and Shelter supports all kinds of agriculture — organic, conventional or using genetically modified crops, she said. But she said organic farmers, hoping to get an edge in the market, are trying hard to bend public policy their way and complicate life for farmers who use other tools to get their crops to market.

“We ought to let them all grow what they want to grow on their own private property, and take it from there,” Pyle said.

Pyle did not include the flap between Oregon wine grape growers and other farmers over spray drift that can damage vineyards. Some wine grape growers explored taking the issue to the Legislature, but OFS helped steer it to farmer-to-farmer discussions instead.

“I think we are on track to resolve that issue,” Pyle said.

Third is the growers themselves. “I believe they need to step it up,” Pyle said. “Every farmer in this state, all farmers — GMO, biotech, conventional, organic — needs to stand up and tell their story in a positive way.”

On another topic, Pyle praised the young women farmers who have emerged to effectively tell ag’s story through social media and at the Legislature.

“They come as a whole person — a mom, a farmer — and present a different version of what agriculture is all about,” she said.

Paulette Pyle

Who: Retiring grass roots director of the lobbying group Oregonians for Food and Shelter.

Career: Came to Oregon in late 1970s, was hired by OFS as temporary campaign worker to defeat measures that would have banned application of phoenoxy herbicides. OFS offered her a job in 1980 and she was with them until announcing retirement this year.

Personal: 69, lives in Albany with her husband, Ken. They have six grown children and 16 grandchildren.

Awards and honors: Pyle will be presented the Oregon Agri-Business Council’s 2015 Ag Connection of the Year Award in November. A council news release said she “excelled at connecting natural resources groups with lawmakers to defend and protect Oregon’s natural resources industry.”

She previously received the 2013 Ted Young Award from the Oregon Forest Industries Council, which said she has “done so much to unite agriculture and forestry — and not allowed any one of our immediate interests to forsake the greater partnership. She also was presented the 2014 President’s Award from the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Advice to her successor, Katie Fast: “Stay close to the ground roots. Don’t take your eye off the ag and forestry businesses we represent.”

Oregon Ag Department developing new strategic plan

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

BOARDMAN, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Agriculture is drawing up a new strategic plan to guide the agency’s activities in the future.

The goal is to develop a document that’s actually useful to ODA officials rather than gathering dust on a shelf, said Ron Sarazin, a consultant who’s assisting ODA with the process.

“It’s got to be something that’s used on a day-to-day basis,” Sarazin said at the recent Oregon Board of Agriculture meeting in Boardman.

The department decided to update its strategic plan because the most recent version was completed before ODA Director Katy Coba was appointed in 2003, said Bruce Pokarney, the agency’s communications director.

“We really want to find out what we do well and what we need to improve upon,” he said.

To that end, members of the Oregon Board of Agriculture weighed in on the challenges facing the agency, including:

• Coexistence: The farming industry, and by extension the ODA, is struggling with coexistence among different types of agriculture, said Coba.

The battle over cross-pollination between biotech, conventional and organic crops is a prominent example, but the issue isn’t limited to genetic engineering, she said.

A similar dispute involves hemp and marijuana, as well as canola and the specialty seeds that are related to that crop, Coba said.

• Water: ODA is rolling out a program to increase its oversight of water quality in “strategic implementation areas” throughout the state, which involves identifying problems and persuading landowners to correct them. The agency aims for voluntary compliance but can issue civil penalties if landowners refuse.

While the agency has made significant progress in its water quality program, the objectives yet to be accomplished are “daunting and the resources are limited,” said board member Steve Van Mouwerik, vice president of operations for the Pacific Ag forage and residue harvesting company.

Even when the ODA does ensure that a landowner corrects water quality problems, the same property can easily slip back into non-compliance when it changes hands, said board member Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer in the Willamette Valley.

• Outreach: Some non-traditional farmers, such as those in urban areas, don’t know how to access services provided by the ODA or don’t feel like the agency speaks for them, said Laura Masterson, the board’s chair and a Portland-area farmer.

Such growers often aren’t involved in commodity commissions and other traditional channels that ODA is used to working through, she said.

Other farmers in remote rural areas are also reluctant to seek help from ODA because they’re intimidated by government agencies, said Tracey Liskey, a farmer in the Klamath basin.

• Retirements: With a large number of ODA employees expected to retire in coming years, the agency should build a “bench” of people who will be able to replace them, said member Barbara Boyer, chair of Oregon’s Water and Soil Conservation Commission.

The subject of developing future leaders to head key agency programs is definitely on ODA’s radar, Coba said.

Feds: Salamanders may qualify for protection

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says two salamanders in Oregon and Washington may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection.

The findings on Tuesday about the Cascade torrent salamander and Columbia torrent salamander mean the agency will initiate full status reviews for the species to see if they warrant protection.

The findings come in response to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center first asked for protection for the salamanders in 2012. The petition said they are increasingly rare because of habitat loss due primarily to logging and road building.

The four-inch brown salamanders live in forest streams and are found only in a small stretch of the Cascades and Coast range. Biologists say their health is an indicator of the overall health of streams.

Leaf-eating gypsy moths captured in Grants Pass

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — For the third consecutive year, gypsy moths have turned up near Grants Pass. In fact, half of the state total of 14 detections this year came from one single trap in the Azalea Drive area a few miles west of town.

The leaf-eating moths don’t pose an immediate threat at this level, but their presence makes foresters nervous.

“We’re catching these before they have populations high enough to damage trees,” said Clint Burfitt, manager of Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program.

In large numbers the moths, which were imported to Massachusetts from Europe in 1869, are among the worst tree defoliators around. In their caterpillar stage, they can eat as much as a square foot of leaves per day.

Of the 14 caught in Oregon this year, 12 are the European variety, while two of the more destructive Asian gypsy moths were caught in the Portland area.

That’s not exactly an infestation — more than 19,000 were trapped in Lane County alone in the mid-1980s — but it is cause for concern.

“This is an exceptionally destructive insect that would change the health of our forests, making them far more vulnerable to other invasive plant issues, causing a loss of foliage on trees as well as damaging agricultural-related industries that would face quarantines should the gypsy moth get established,” Burfitt said in a news release from the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture put out 15,000 traps statewide in the spring. In addition to the moths found in Portland and Grants Pass, there were three others in the Portland area, one in Forest Grove and one in West Linn.

According to the agency, Asian gypsy moth females can fly, unlike the European strain, which could lead to more rapid infestation and spread. The Asian strain also has a larger appetite for what grows in Oregon, including conifers.

Only three Asian gypsy moths had been detected in Oregon before this year — a single catch in Portland in 1991, one in Portland’s Forest Park in 2000, and one in St. Helens in 2006.

The European strain most often arrives when people move from the Midwest and East where the moth populations are far higher.

The seven moths caught here indicate a breeding population exists, Burfitt said.

In 2013 only two moths were caught, and last year it was three, in the same area. Burfitt said it’s possible to find the “epicenter” where females are laying eggs.

As of now, there are no plans to spray, but there is the possibility of moth eradication projects next year in Josephine County and Portland, the ODA said.

For many years spraying for the gypsy moth was done annually in Oregon, but the most recent eradication occurred in 2009. Prior to this year’s 14 detections, there were only seven detected in the state from 2012 through 2014.

“We put a lot of resources into mitigating this statewide, and we’ve had a pretty successful track record for 30 years,” Burfitt said.

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