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National forest logging on upward track, official says

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The volume of timber cut from Northwest national forests is increasing due to collaborative planning and growing state involvement in logging projects, according to an Oregon forest supervisor.

For example, the Willamette National Forest — Oregon’s foremost timber producer and a regular top contender nationally — aims to generate 100 million board-feet in 2020, up from about 75 million to 80 million board-feet in 2018, said Tracy Beck, the forest’s supervisor.

Last year, 66 million board-feet were harvested from the forest, according to federal statistics.

Contrary to the common belief that federal logging projects are being tied up in litigation, lawsuits have only been a filed against a handful of the hundreds of projects in the area, Beck said at a recent timber industry tour in Corvallis, Ore.

“We’re winning most of those cases,” he said. “I really feel like collaboration has helped keep us out of court.”

Collaboratives are groups, such as nonprofits, that help steer the federal government’s thinking on logging and thinning projects and build agreement among the timber industry, environmental groups and others.

Another recent tool that’s expected to increase timber volume from national forests is the “good neighbor” authority granted by Congress in 2014 that allows state governments to carry out projects on federal land.

While such logging projects are still subject to federal environmental laws, states have more flexibility with contracting rules and are able to carry out projects more effectively, said Mike Cloughesy, forestry director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, which organized the tour.

Federal contracting regulations are more complicated and have set wages for certain jobs — such as road crews — whereas state regulations allow for more cost-efficiency, he said.

Earlier this year, Oregon lawmakers approved $500,000 for the Oregon Department of Forestry to assist with the planning and implementation of projects under the “good neighbor” authority.

As ODF increases its capacity to manage such projects, the Willamette National Forest hopes to eventually reach about 120 million board-feet in timber volume, said Beck, the forest’s supervisor. The forest is estimated to produce about 1 billion board-feet a year in new timber.

At roughly 650 million board-feet of timber harvested in 2018, the Forest Service region that includes Oregon and Washington this year achieved its highest volume in two decades, he said.

“The future looks bright,” Beck said.

The OFRI tour, held on Oct. 19, included a visit to new mass timber buildings under construction on Oregon State University’s campus using cross laminated timber and mass plywood, which are pre-fabricated panels that allow for the efficient assembly of multi-story wooden structures.

The group of about 50 lawmakers, government officials and industry representatives also walked through long-term research plots at OSU’s McDonald-Dunn Forest that analyzed different harvest and reforestation methods.

The university harvests about 7 million to 9 million board-feet a year from 15,000 acres that include the McDonald-Dunn and surrounding forests, said Steve Fitzpatrick, director of research forests at OSU’s College of Forestry.

Managing the forestland presents unique challenges due to the high volume of tourists and the proximity to residential homes, which can lead to controversies and compromises over forest management, he said.

“You get the full range of emotions, from ‘Well, it’s your property’ to ‘I’m going to sue you,’” said Fitzpatrick.

Local partnership sends surplus potatoes to food banks

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

HERMISON, Ore. — The local agricultural community came together last week to send thousands of pounds of potatoes to Oregon food banks.

In the past, the spuds would have gone to waste, tilled over after they served their purpose as a test plot at the Hermiston Agricultural Research & Extension Center. But four years ago the experiment station decided to start partnering with local producers and the nonprofit Farmers Ending Hunger to put them to good use in food boxes for families in need.

“It’s a great program,” said John Burt, executive director of Farmers Ending Hunger. “It takes a lot of people to make it happen.”

The program starts with test plots at HAREC, paid for by grants from the Oregon Potato Commission and tended by the experiment station. HAREC director Phil Hamm said while some produce grown at the experiment station couldn’t be used for human consumption after being subjected to experiments, the potatoes harvested Wednesday weren’t experimented upon.

Instead, area growers each send 300 tubers to be planted at HAREC. There, plant pathologist Kenneth Frost evaluates them for disease, and contacts growers if he finds any issues.

Hamm said because the acres are a mixture of potato varieties, it doesn’t work to send them all to a french fry plant, for example, but each individual potato is good for eating.

“This is a good use of potatoes that are absolutely OK, just not for a commercial setting,” he said.

On Wednesday, Stahl Farms donated the labor and equipment to harvest the potatoes, which were loaded onto trucks provided by Medelez Trucking. The trucks took them to Walchli Potato to be processed, washed and packaged and sent to a storage facility owned by farmer Steve Walker. Hamm said they didn’t have a final number yet, but it was definitely more than 100,000 pounds of potatoes.

Farmers Ending Hunger, which started in Umatilla County, facilitates donations of fresh food from Oregon farmers to the Oregon Food Bank. Burt said Wednesday’s effort with the test potatoes was a little different than the normal donation, but it was worth the effort. Some of the potatoes will go to CAPECO in Pendleton to be distributed locally, and the rest will be picked up by the Oregon Food Bank to be distributed to their network of food banks throughout the state.

“We will leave as much locally as possible,” Burt said.

Hunger is an issue throughout Oregon. According to the Oregon Food Bank, 14 percent of Oregonians are “food insecure,” meaning they don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food. Of those 552,900 Oregonians, 194,070 are children.

The food bank works to lessen hunger by distributing food through 1,200 different local sites around the state and Clark County, Washington. Food is kept in 21 regional food banks, with CAPECO serving as one for northeastern Oregon. Food comes from corporate and individual donations, and Farmers Ending Hunger is one of the top donors. The nonprofit donated 26 million pounds of food crops between 2006 and 2017.

Outdoor lovers sue US government over climate change

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued Monday to force the U.S. government to target climate change, coming days after a similar lawsuit filed by young activists was temporarily put on hold by the Supreme Court.

Those who joined the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon include scientists, nature enthusiasts and wildlife advocates who say they fear for their safety as wildfires, mudslides and other threats grow more severe, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .

They say they have a fundamental right to be left alone “free from human interference” in the wilderness and they want a federal judge to declare that the federal government is violating that right by contributing to a dangerous concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Animal Defense Fund member and plaintiff Michael Goetz of Portland said that on a recent backpacking trip, wildfire smoke was so intense that couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, according to the lawsuit.

Outdoor adventure athlete Will Gadd also joined the lawsuit, which said he has witnessed melting ice and glaciers while climbing in conditions that are much more dangerous now than they were years ago when he first began climbing.

“Will is harmed by the government’s actions and inactions to stem the severity of climate change because he is prevented from reasonably and safely exercising his right to wilderness on which he relies for his physical and mental well—being as well as his global status as an outdoor adventurer and educator,” the suit says.

The lawsuit names the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense; the Environmental Protection Agency; and other agencies.

An Interior spokeswoman said in an email to contact the Justice Department. Their Environment and Natural Resources Division didn’t immediately respond to an email.

The new challenge comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a high—profile climate change lawsuit that young activists brought against the federal government.

The lawsuit filed in 2015 in Eugene argues that government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuels was causing climate change and that policies on oil and gas deprive the young people of life, liberty and property.

The 21 young people issued a response Monday to the high court, saying the case poses important constitutional questions that should be evaluated at a trial that had been set to start next week.

The new lawsuit takes a different approach, said Carter Dillard, senior policy adviser for the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

While the young people’s case focuses on constitutional rights to life, liberty and property and protection of public resources, the one filed Monday focuses on “the simple right to be let alone, the right long recognized and protected under banners like privacy and liberty,” Dillard told the newspaper in an email.

OSU Extension’s poultry specialist sees 31 years of change

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SALEM, Ore. — When James Hermes came to Oregon State University’s poultry department 31 years ago, big company buyouts, cage-free egg production and stringent antibiotic restrictions were not issues.

Today, as enters his last full academic year as Oregon State University Extension’s poultry specialist, Hermes is dealing with all three.

Born in North Carolina, Hermes earned an associate’s degree in science from Palomar Community College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in avian sciences and a Ph.D. in genetics in 1988 from the University of California-Davis.

“I was originally interested in hawks and then game birds instead of chickens but I couldn’t get into graduate school with hawks and there was no significant employment (related to) game birds,” Hermes said. “Because of that, I got involved in what at the time was called poultry husbandry. I changed my major from zoology to avian science, got my degree in hatchery work and incubation and came to Oregon State as an extension agent and then specialist.”

He spends 80 percent of his time teaching and 20 percent advising growers, judging contests and leading workshops on the OSU Extension side. He is currently participating in a three-year pastured poultry program with UC-Davis.

As fewer, larger companies raise chickens in Oregon, the business has changed, he said.

“My ties with the chicken business are reduced, partly because of my job and partly because the chicken people don’t meet any more,” Hermes said.

The switch to cage-free operations by 2025 will also be challenging, he said.

“The cage-free deadline is going to be a tough one to meet because it is very expensive to changeover,” he said. Current cage facilities can’t be modified, he said, so existing buildings are going to have to be pushed down and rebuilt.

“Each company has its own schedule and everyone is doing a little bit — 10 percent the first year, 20 percent the second year and so on,” he said. “At a cost of $40 to $50 a bird and you have a million birds, we obviously are going to be paying more for eggs.”

Restrictions on antibiotics is another change poultry farmers face, he said.

“As to what’s going to happen now with new restrictions on the use of pharmaceuticals, is anybody’s guess. We don’t know what will happen when these egg layers are put on the floor and/or outside where they will be subjected to parasites and bacteria that have never challenged their immune systems before,” he said. “We are definitely in a transition period and we’re going to have to do things differently. My veterinarian friends tell me the new learning curve is going to be steep.”

It remains to be seen who will take over Hermes’ OSU Extension duties and work with 4-H and FFA students and judge contests at the state fair when he retires with plans to raise his beloved game birds at the end of 2019.

“I have a small farm outside of Philomath where I can build pens for up to 1,000 pheasants, chuckers and other games birds if I decide to do that,” Hermes said. “My wife may shoot me because she’s not looking forward to spending our retirement tied to the farm. Hopefully, I can hire some willing students to pitch in so we can get away. After that, it will be helping my daughters get over not being on duty in the chicken booth when Ag Fest rolls around.”

For more information, contact OSU Department of Animal Rangeland Sciences at 541-737-2254 or email james.hermes@oregonstate.edu

Onion quality ‘excellent’ as harvest crosses finish line

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Capital Press

Onion quality, size and yield look good as harvest wraps up and storage sheds run full-speed in southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho.

Yields appear to slightly exceed long-term averages.

“Generally, things are quite good so far,” Kay Riley, general manager at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, Ore., said Oct. 19. “Harvest has been exceptional and size has been exceptional.” Quality and appearance also have been excellent, he said.

Quality looked unaffected by heavy rains Oct. 4 and 9 in parts of the region and a light frost early Oct. 15, he said. Most of the crop had been harvested before the frost, he said.

Internal decay can occur after about a month in storage, Riley said. More will be known later, but that does not appear to be an issue so far at Snake River, he said. The operation began packing in mid-August.

The region’s onion industry typically ships around 30,000 semi-truck loads of onions, and shipping as of Oct. 19 was about 2,200 loads ahead of last year’s volume, he said.

“We anticipate having a very good season,” Riley said.

Recent rain and frost likely did not reduce onion quality or yield, said Oregon State University Extension Malheur County Crop Agent Stuart Reitz.

When morning temperatures drop into the upper 20s, growers will wait until later in the day to harvest and handle onions — after any frost comes off outer layers — so they don’t bruise the vegetables, he said. Morning temperatures were around 28 degrees in the area early Oct. 15, “in some areas a couple degrees cooler.

“But the onions are sitting on the ground, so they get some additional heat from the soil,” Reitz said. “And if it doesn’t stay too cold for too long, they don’t suffer that damage.”

Last year’s late-starting season had below-average onion sizes and yields. The current onion crop looks much more like the 2016 crop, which was fairly large, he said.

Good skin color and size, and a high percentage of single-center onions good for processing are among onion characteristics seen this year, Reitz said. Mostly good growing conditions, with few stops and starts, helped overall quality and yield as well as centering.

“It seems like things are going into storage pretty well. You see onions moving, and guys are getting finished up,” said Bruce Corn, who farms between Ontario and Nyssa, Ore. He expects harvest in the area to conclude by the end of the month if conditions hold.

He said on Oct. 19 he would be surprised if earlier rain and frost affected quality, as “the stuff we see moving on the truck looks really good — well cured.” This year’s curing weather has been good, he said.

Nyssa-area grower Paul Skeen said his crop looks “excellent, probably the best I’ve ever seen. Quality and appearance and everything else.”

His harvest was largely completed before the Oct. 15 frost, as was much of the area’s onion harvest, he said. “A lot of onions were in before that happened, so the percentage that actually got some frost on it was pretty minute.”

Around the growing region, yields were good — substantially better than last year and slightly above the five-year average, Skeen said.

ODA director backs more trade opportunities for ranchers

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

By CRAIG REED

For the Capital Press

ROSEBURG, Ore. — Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, commented on topics ranging from trade to wolves while visiting with ranchers at an Oct. 16 meeting of the Douglas County Livestock Association.

The back-and-forth conversation between the director and the ranchers included discussion of foreign markets for beef, wolves and compensation for livestock loss, food origins, estate and inheritance taxes and solar farms on agricultural land.

Umpqua, Ore., rancher Kurt Spencer said it is important that Oregon maintains a strong interest in pursuing foreign beef markets. He said the state is not keeping up in that pursuit.

Taylor explained that representatives from the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, the Oregon Beef Council and Country Natural Beef were on a trade trip to China last May. She said Japan has been the state’s top market for agricultural products, but the next key market for Oregon may be China. That country recently reopened its beef market to U.S. producers.

Taylor said 80 percent of Oregon’s agricultural products are shipped outside the state and 40 percent of that total is exported to international markets. She agreed it is important to seek out and establish trade relationships in those foreign markets.

She said it is important that trade trips are set up in both directions so that representatives from China, South Korea and Japan can visit Oregon to meet beef producers and to see where and how beef is raised.

“Trading relationships are long-term investments, not something you build in two years,” Taylor said. “Oregon agriculture can capitalize on our proximity to the Pacific Rim and the growing middle class in Asia.”

Cottage Grove, Ore., rancher Bill Hoyt brought up the importance of having a wolf compensation fund for livestock damage in western Oregon because the wolfpack in southwestern Oregon is dispersing and future conflicts are inevitable.

“To get to the point, we need more funds for compensation for all over the state,” he said, adding that ranchers are willing to work with the ODA and to testify on behalf of the department to the Oregon legislature on wolf issues.

Taylor said it was a point well-taken and that the ODA would continue to support an increase in the fund through the budget process. She added there are always opportunities for stakeholders to testify and provide support for the fund in the budget.

In response to a question from Tenmile, Ore., rancher Marwood Hallett about future trends, Taylor said she anticipates the origin of foods to be an important subject well into the future. She said only 10 percent of the U.S. population now lives in rural areas so the disconnect with food sources is expected. She added 56 percent of Oregon’s population lives in the Portland metro area.

“Consumers want to know the source of food,” she said. “We have generations of people who are now removed from agriculture and we’re less educated as a consumer base as a result. It’ll take time out of our business to try to educate consumers.”

The ODA is involved in the Agriculture in the Classroom program in an effort to provide educational materials on the ag industry to city classrooms.

Regarding solar panels on agricultural land, Taylor said ODA is supportive of all forms of alternative energy, but it comes down to “what is the best use of that land.”

“We want to see the most productive ag land in any part of the state protected,” she said. “We want to provide for both, but in a way that makes sense. We need to be thoughtful about solar in the state, we want it to be compatible with agriculture, but not competitive.”

Glide, Ore., rancher Mark Talcott asked Taylor about estate and inheritance taxes and the difficulty in passing an agricultural operation onto the next generation. Talcott is the fifth generation to own and operate his family’s ranch.

“We’re land rich, cash poor,” he said. “We need relief if family farms and ranches are going to continue. The last nail in the coffin is the Oregon estate tax. There is a loss of family farms because they’re being bought up by corporations that can afford the tax situation.”

Taylor said the estate tax issue is something she has heard talk about in the Oregon Capitol in Salem “so it is on their radar.” She had no further information on whether tax changes were coming.

“I find what you have on your minds very valuable,” Taylor said to the ranchers as the meeting concluded.

Following her stop in Roseburg, Taylor traveled south and made stops in Central Point and Medford to visit with and to hear from others who are involved in Oregon agriculture.

Trump wants to cut red tape, hasten water projects in West

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

DENVER (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday ordered the government to speed up environmental reviews and streamline regulations that he says are hindering work on major water projects in the Western United States.

Trump signed a memorandum aimed at helping the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project in California, the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon and the Columbia River Basin system in the Pacific Northwest.

“We will resolve the issues blocking the completion of the Central Valley project,” Trump said in Arizona during a swing through Western states. “I hope you enjoy the water that you’re going to have.”

The announcement is a boost for endangered Republican lawmakers in California’s Central Valley facing tough challenges from Democrats looking to take control of the U.S. House.

Officials did not discuss specific work that the administration aims to speed up for any of the projects. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages most federal water projects in the West, referred questions to the Interior Department. That department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The Central Valley Project is a federally managed water storage and delivery system that primarily benefits agricultural users in California’s rich farming country in the center of the state.

The State Water Project serves agricultural and urban water users, including Los Angeles and much of sprawling Southern California.

The Klamath Irrigation Project is in California and Oregon.

The Columbia River system includes the Columbia Basin Project, which serves about 1,050 square miles of farmland in east central Washington. The project includes the Grand Coulee Dam and three power plants.

The president’s announcement is likely to inflame an ongoing battle in California over divvying up water between cities, farms and environmental needs like the protection of fish.

Farming interests have long pushed to raise Shasta Dam, which holds back California’s largest reservoir as part of the Central Valley Project, by more than 18 feet. The project is opposed by environmentalists who say it would harm threatened fish species and by the Winnemem Wintu tribe, which says it would flood sacred sites.

Several other dams are proposed including Sites Reservoir near Sacramento and Temperance Flat Dam north of Fresno.

Fall Forage Festival set for Corvallis

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

The Oregon Forage and Grasslands Council and the Oregon Hay and Forage Association are combining their outreach efforts and will co-host the Fall Forage Festival.

The two-day event, scheduled for Nov. 16-17 in Corvallis, Ore., is a first. Previously, the two groups held separate annual events.

“This is part of our outreach responsibility,” said Jerome Magnuson, a member of OFGC and the chair of the festival’s organizing committee. “The festival is open to anybody who is interested in the producing side of forages or the feeding side. We want to help educate those people and to help promote the forage industry.”

Greg Mohnen, president of OHFA, said he hopes the event will encourage more western Oregon forage growers to join the association that traditionally has had just central and eastern Oregon members.

“There’s always something to learn and by moving the event around we hope we can reach more people and provide them with more information,” said Mohnen who manages the McGinnis Ranch near Bend, Ore.

The Friday, Nov. 16 schedule will begin with registration at 8:30 a.m. in Guerber Hall at the Benton County Fairgrounds. There will be a $30 fee which will include lunch.

Several speakers will follow between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Presentations will be about nutrient value of hays, hay storage and its impact on quality, matching hay to livestock, coping with drought, current research and resources in the Pacific Northwest.

Presenters will include Glenn Shewmaker, a University of Idaho Extension forage specialist; Steve Norberg, a Washington State University Extension forage specialist; Mylen Bohle, an Oregon State University forage specialist; and Jon Driver of Farm Credit Services. Shewmaker will discuss changes in forage quality during storage, Norberg will present new ways to look at forage and hay quality and Driver will talk about the hay market, exports and impacts on the market.

A roundtable discussion with hay growers talking about the issues they face in growing forages is also scheduled.

The main activity on Saturday, Nov. 17 will be the Hay King Contest. There is no fee to attend this event, which will be held at the Oldfield Animal Teaching Facility on the Oregon State University campus. OSU agricultural students are encouraged to attend.

Two- and three-tie bales and sample flacks from bigger bales will be displayed and judged. The classes will be dairy alfalfa, retail alfalfa, grass, grass/legume mix, cereal, cereal/legume (pea or vetch) mix and timothy.

Hay samples with an entry form and $30 per entry made out to OHFA should be sent to the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, 6941 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, OR 97603-9365, by Nov. 2. The center will do a chemical analysis of each entry, testing it for several quality indicators.

Growers will then bring to Corvallis a bale or a sample from the hay that was analyzed. Judges will pull the hay apart, evaluating it and talking about its feel, smell, color, maturity and the presence of any foreign substances.

“The judges will look at the way a bale is put together,” Magnuson said. “It’s extremely educational for a grower to listen to a professional evaluate a bale of hay. The networking between growers, buyers and users at this time is also valuable.”

More information on the two-day event can be found on the OFGC or OHFA websites or by calling Magnuson at 541-990-5409.

Willamette Valley winemakers help S. Oregon vineyards

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon winemakers may be fierce competitors in the marketplace, but when it comes to the industry as a whole, they look out for one another.

When a Napa Valley winery rejected 2,000 tons of grapes from Southern Oregon growers just before harvest due to concerns about smoke taint in the fruit, a group of rivals from the Willamette Valley decided to lend a hand.

The coalition — King Estate Winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Silvan Ridge Winery and Eyrie Vineyards — purchased over 140 tons of grapes from six growers in Southern Oregon, at full contract price, which they will use to create a 2018 vintage of Pinot noir, Chardonnay and rosé wines under the name “Oregon Solidarity.”

Proceeds from net sales will go to vintners in the Rogue Valley who were left with grapes to rot on the vine.

“We are proud to be part of this first-of-its-kind solidarity effort, working with our colleagues to save what grapes we could from this high-quality vintage,” said Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore.

Copper Cane LLC, a winery in Rutherford, Calif., buys grapes from approximately 50 vineyards in Oregon to make Pinot noir and rosé, though it recently rejected orders from at least 15 vineyards worth an estimated $4 million over smoke taint from the region’s wildfires.

Joe Wagner, owner and operator of Copper Cane, said in a previous interview that no contracts were canceled, and the winery will continue to work with Oregon growers in the future. However, those same growers are defending the quality of this year’s grapes, and Bernau said independent testing revealed smoke taint at levels below cause for concern.

Because the 2018 rejection notices came so close to harvest, growers say they did not have enough time to find a new buyer for the grapes, leaving them stranded in the vineyard. Ed King, co-founder of King Estate Winery in Eugene, Ore., said that is when he and other Willamette Valley winemakers came up with the game plan.

“We just decided, rather than sit on the sidelines, we would figure out what we could do to help,” King said.

Wineries like King Estate and Willamette Valley Vineyards already buy some grapes from Southern Oregon, but together the coalition purchased an additional $323,750 worth of grapes to make the “Oregon Solidarity” wines.

The wines are now fermenting in the wineries’ cellars until they are brought together for blending. Customers can pre-order wines online beginning Feb. 1, 2019, with the release dates for Oregon Solidarity Rosé on March 1, 2019, Chardonnay on June 1, 2019 and Pinot noir on Aug. 1, 2019. King said they expect to produce between 3,000 and 4,000 cases.

Each wine will be labeled from the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area.

“Labeling these wines with the Rogue Valley AVA emphasizes the high quality that comes from this wine region, and represents our confidence in these winegrowers and vintage,” King said.

King said he has no concern about the wine quality, and that it will be “top notch.” Smoke taint has been described as producing a “leather,” “burnt” or “ashtray” flavor in the wine due to organic compounds released by fires.

Copper Cane, meanwhile, has also run afoul of Oregon winemakers stemming from allegations earlier this year of misleading labels on its Oregon-sourced wines, such as “The Willametter Journal” and “Elouan.” Wagner, the owner, said the winery is working with state and federal agencies investigating the claims, though he feels they are doing nothing wrong.

Oregon ‘cottage food’ law showing benefits

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A new study based on dozens of interviews at farmers’ markets across Oregon finds the state’s Farm Direct Marketing Law, which took effect in 2012, is working as advocates hoped, providing new revenue streams for small farms while reducing food waste.

The law sought to clarify licensing and food safety requirements for direct-to-consumer sales at venues such as farmers’ markets and farm stands. In Oregon, about 12 percent of farms engage in direct-to-consumer marketing — more than double the national rate — with $53 million in sales from an estimated 4,252 farms in 2015, according to the USDA.

Part of the law establishes provisions for “cottage foods,” or homemade value-added products such as jellies, canned fruit, pickled vegetables and relishes, using farm-grown produce. Under the rules, farmers can sell these goods direct-to-consumer without a food processor’s license so long as they meet certain labeling requirements and sales don’t exceed $20,000 per year.

Every state except Hawaii and New Jersey has some sort of cottage food laws on the books. Opponents argue that reduced regulatory scrutiny may lead to unsanitary practices that increase foodborne illnesses, though researchers with Oregon State University found no foodborne illness linked to the Farm Direct Marketing Law after its first five years.

Rather, the study, published Sept. 12 in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development, concluded the law has seemingly accomplished exactly what it was designed to do, and “we expect more farmers will take advantage of this opportunity.”

The study was funded in part by a grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and led by Lauren Gwin, associate director of the Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems at OSU.

Researchers visited 20 farmers’ markets during the 2016 season, interviewing 18 farmers and 24 market managers about the Farm Direct Marketing Law. The top two benefits they mentioned were creating new, supplemental income streams and using excess produce to make valuable products such as salsa and preserves, turning potential waste into profit.

One Southern Oregon farmer interviewed for the study said the law was “a huge boon to our farm,” providing an additional $10,000 per year in sales — not enough to afford the flat infrastructure cost it would take to have a facility, “but you know a small amount like $10,000 really helps out our farm for the year.”

Other benefits discussed in the study include the ability for farmers to provide more healthy food choices in isolated, rural communities, and increasing food security in those areas. As one market manager said, “Every product that can be created in a community and sold at the market or a farmstand or CSA is one more thing that can actually be bought there, in rural communities that lack grocery stores.”

When asked how to improve the Farm Direct Marketing Law, farmers mentioned a few barriers mostly around improving public awareness and education about the rules. Others suggested expanding the cottage food exemption to include more products, or increasing the sales cap, and while researchers acknowledged more than half of states with cottage food laws have no limit on sales, “the political feasibility of this in Oregon is uncertain, due to ongoing concern about foodborne illness.”

“Licensed food processors might also object to increased competition from businesses that would be less regulated and have lower compliance costs,” they added.

BLM Oregon-Washington state director headed to Colorado

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has a new director in Colorado.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reports Jamie Connell, who previously worked in Colorado, will be returning to the state to serve as the agency’s state director.

Connell currently is serving as the Oregon-Washington state director.

Connell is replacing acting Colorado state director Greg Shoop, who will resume his work as associate state director. The former state director, Ruth Welch, was reassigned by the Department of Interior to the Bureau of Reclamation in 2017.

Connell began her BLM career as a petroleum engineer in Montana. She later served as manager of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, now the Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt.

Connell moved on to positions including serving as manager of the BLM’s Northwest Colorado district, and as state director in Montana.

Judge denies injunction against 500-acre logging project

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A federal judge has denied a request from several environmental groups for a preliminary injunction against a 500-acre logging project in Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest.

Cascadia Wildlands, Oregon Wild and Benton Forest Coalition filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service earlier this year for allegedly approving the Quartz project in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

The plaintiffs argued a preliminary injunction blocking timber harvest was warranted because the federal agency hadn’t re-submitted its environmental analysis for public comment after additional red tree vole nests were found in the area.

Red tree voles are a protected species the Forest Service must “survey and manage” under the Northwest Forest Plan, a federal law intended to resolve conflicts between logging and conservation in the region.

The 517-acre Quartz project consists of “matrix” lands, which are designated for multiple forest uses, and includes trees in the range of 90 to 130 years old.

Initially, the Forest Service found only 13 red tree vole nest sites within the project’s boundaries, but amended that estimate to 87 nest sites and later added 70 more due to objections and data from the environmental groups.

Despite these findings, the Forest Service determined the area was “non-high priority” for the species, leading the plaintiffs to claim the agency had “gone out of its way to ensure the existence of red tree voles would not hinder its proposed timber harvest.”

The environmentalists alleged the Forest Service should have re-opened its environmental analysis to public comment both times the nest site estimate was changed.

The agency should also have updated its analysis with information about how revised land management plans on adjacent Bureau of Land Management property would affect the red tree vole, according to the plaintiffs.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane has now rejected their arguments, ruling that the public comment opportunities on the project were sufficient under NEPA.

“Requiring the FS to open up every additional confirmation of a nest or site in the Quartz area to public comment would likely result in a never-ending process of supplements and further comment,” he said.

Likewise, the agency’s assessment of the new management plan for BLM property was adequate, since “it does not follow that any changes to land use practices on adjacent lands necessarily results in a meaningful impact” to the “non-high priority” designation of the Quartz site, McShane said.

An injunction also isn’t warranted partly because the plaintiffs waited eight months after project approval to file their complaint, he said.

During that time, two timber companies — Rosbo and Swanson Group, who have intervened in the case — signed contracts and otherwise planned to harvest timber, creating “private vested interests,” McShane said.

“Roads have been built. Logging has begun. The defendant intervenors are depending on the lumber to keep their mills open and active now and during the coming months,” he said.

The Quartz project is also intended to reduce wildfire risk in the area, which weighs in favor of the public interest apart from the private economic considerations, he said.

“While the risk of fire is certainly speculative as to the specific area in question, the raging (and massive) months-long fires in Oregon and Northern California the past few summers demonstrate the threat is real,” McShane said.

Sea Lion Shuttle Service Not A Solution To Lethal Removal At Willamette Falls

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Threatened winter steelhead will start making their way up the Willamette River to their spawning grounds next month, and half a dozen sea lions are already waiting to eat them at Willamette Falls.

Managers with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have asked for permission to kill these sea lions to save the fish. They don’t have an answer yet, but thanks to a sea lion shuffle earlier this year, they’re ready to go should they get the approval.

Last year, sea lions at Willamette Falls ate a quarter of a winter steelhead run that was already down to about 500 fish. At that rate, biologists say, the run is at risk of extinction.

Oregon has permission to kill sea lions to protect fish at Bonneville Dam, where 29 sea lions were lethally removed last year. But they don’t have that option at Willamette Falls, about 10 miles south of Portland where the river divides Oregon City from West Linn.

Without authority to kill the sea lions at Willamette Falls, fishery managers got creative.

The state trapped and relocated about a dozen sea lions in two cages on a dock below Willamette Falls between February and April.

In many of those cases, Bryan Wright, who leads ODFW’s marine mammal program, would hide out of sight at dusk until he saw a sea lion jump into the trap. Then, he’d press a button and a heavy cage door would slam shut.

Once the sea lions were trapped, Wright and other wildlife managers shooed them from the dock to a barge to a pickup truck – and then drove them 200 miles away to Newport.

“So, now we’re transferring the animal from the barge to the truck,” Wright explained from behind the wheel of a pickup truck as a team of workers banged on the walls of the barge with poles. “Usually you have to use a little bit of noise, tapping the stick, prodding them a little bit.”

The sea lions weren’t exactly eager to hop into a cage on the back of a truck, and Wright wasn’t exactly thrilled to be behind the wheel.

“It’s not something anybody does every day,” he said. “You have this 400- to 600-pound sea lion in the back, and nobody really knows, you know, driving by what we have back there. The first time I did it I was a bit white knuckled for the whole trip.”

Sea lions swim right back

Even as he was releasing these sea lions, Wright knew it was just a matter of time before they swam right back.

One sea lion made the 230-mile trip in just four days. Another one swam back and got trapped a second time, so he got two trips to the coast. Shaun Clements, a fisheries manager with ODFW, said clearly driving the sea lions to the coast was not a solution to the problem. But it is one of their only options for protecting the fish while they wait for approval to kill the sea lions.

“In the meantime, we felt we had to do something because the run is so poor and the sea lion population is getting bigger,” he said.

For every day the relocated sea lions weren’t at Willamette Falls, the agency estimates it saved two to three fish from getting eaten. Multiply that by 10 for each of the sea lions they moved, Clements said, and the number of fish that weren’t eaten by sea lions starts to add up.

“We did save some steelhead from predation,” Clements said. “Sixty days of two fish each a day, that’s 120 fish. That’s something”

Plus, he said, now they have the traps and the barge system ready to go to lethally remove sea lions should they get permission from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Trucking sea lions and salmon

But killing sea lions won’t solve all the problems these fish are facing.

The salmon and steelhead that do make it over the falls – without getting eaten by sea lions — still have twelve dams standing in the way of their spawning grounds.

None of those dams have fish ladders — a stair step-like series of pools that allows fish to make their way up and around a river’s towering dam.

“So right now what you see in essence is a huge roadblock for these fish in both directions,” said Jennifer Fairbrother with the Native Fish Society, an environmental group that sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over dam management in the Willamette River Basin. “The big nut to crack is how do we help these fish get around the dams both as they go downstream as juveniles and as they come back to spawn?”

Right now, dam managers have to help adult fish get around the dams by collecting them in a holding tank that drains into a truck. The truck drives the fish around the dam and dumps them out upstream.

Sea lions aren’t the only wildlife getting trucked around Oregon. More than half the salmon in the Willamette River Basin – tens of thousands of fish – get driven around dams every year. It’s the only way they’ll make it.

The dams were built for flood control, and dam managers say they’re too tall for regular fish ladders and spillways.

“In a perfect world, we’d have a ladder where we didn’t have to trap and handle fish,” said Greg Taylor, fisheries biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Everybody wants that. But it’s not a tool that’s available to us at this point. It’s not there.”

While dam managers puzzle over better options, sea lions are eating more and more of the fish downstream.

Clements says the only option left is to kill the sea lions to save the fish – before it’s too late.

“It’s a pretty simple equation for the winter steelhead right now,” he said. “Their numbers are so low. They’re losing so many here at the falls, that if we don’t do this they’re going to go extinct.”

ODFW is expecting a decision on its application to lethally remove sea lions from Willamette Falls by the end the year.

State slaps Lost Valley Farm with $187,000 fine

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Oregon farm regulators have issued a fine of more than $187,000 to a controversial Oregon dairy, citing more than 220 violations of its wastewater permit between last December and late August.

Among the alleged violations by Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore., are unauthorized manure discharges, storing too much manure in lagoons, repeatedly applying manure to fields without first installing required soil moisture sensors and keeping excessive numbers of mature cattle.

The dairy has until early November to challenge the civil penalties issued by the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s confined animal feeding program before an administrative judge.

“It is the largest CAFO penalty we’ve ever issued,” said Wym Matthews, the program manager.

None of the violations were that severe on their own, but they added up over time, he said. “The same thing happened continually without repair.”

Lost Valley Farm was recently put under new management after its owner, Greg te Velde, lost control of the facility’s operations in bankruptcy proceedings and the reins were handed to a federal trustee. Two other dairies, both in California, were also put under the trustee’s control.

ODA expects to proceed with its revocation of the dairy’s confined animal feeding operation permit even if the trustee, accountant Randy Sugarman, cleans up the facility’s act, said Matthews.

“Our unwavering aim is to revoke this permit. Whoever’s name is on it, we’re going to revoke it,” Matthews said at an Oct. 11 meeting of the CAFO advisory committee in Salem, Ore.

Lost Valley Farm is challenging the revocation of its CAFO permit through an administrative process, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for Nov. 13.

Even if the dairy is brought into regulatory compliance, its past actions — such as manure lagoon overflows — warrant the revocation, and the ODA has lost all trust in te Velde’s management, Matthews said.

Even if the facility operated properly over the short term, the agency has no confidence that te Velde could keep up the compliance, he said.

The ODA anticipates arguing in bankruptcy court that its revocation of Lost Valley’s permit isn’t subject to the “automatic stay” that protects the company against adverse creditor actions under the bankruptcy process, Matthews said.

“Do you allow a facility to continue to violate state and federal laws?” he said.

While the facility does have some design flaws, ODA believes the wastewater problems were fundamentally caused by improper operations, he said.

If the dairy is eventually sold to repay te Velde’s creditors, the new owner would have to apply for a new CAFO permit, Matthews said.

Driver dies in E. Oregon cattle truck crash

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A semi-trailer truck hauling 28 head of cattle crashed Tuesday afternoon on Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon, killing the driver and shutting down the highway while authorities attempted to round up several loose animals.

Five cows were also killed in the rollover — three instantly and two more were euthanized due to injuries, according to Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox.

The driver, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was not immediately identified.

The state police reported the truck flipped after it struck a guardrail heading west on I-84 in Union County, about two miles west of North Powder. No other vehicles were involved in the wreck.

The Oregon Department of Transportation shut down the highway eastbound between Pendleton and Baker City and westbound from Baker City to La Grande. The eastbound lanes have since been opened.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

Regulators Discuss New Plans For Nuclear Waste At Hanford

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

Federal and state energy regulators will hold back-to-back meetings in Portland on Tuesday for a proposal to reclassify some of the high-level nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Washington.

The proposal has major implications for the nuclear waste that remains in Hanford’s storage tanks.

In recent years, the U.S. Department of Energy has been working to retrieve the nuclear waste left in storage tanks, and in one area known as C-Farm, they’ve removed as much as they can get.

“But there is some amount they were not able to get,” said Jeff Burright, nuclear waste remediation specialist with the Oregon Department of Energy. “And that equates to approximately 70,000 gallons of waste.”

The Energy Department wants to downgrade that remainder to “low-level radioactive waste,” so they can leave it in place and fill the tanks with grout. The area would then be sealed off to prevent the waste from migrating.

It’s the first step in a long closure process for about 10 percent of the storage tanks on the site. But the Oregon Department of Energy has raised concerns that federal officials are moving too quickly. The state has filed public comments asking federal officials to do additional reviews before making any decisions.

“The movement of waste through the Hanford environment is a very complex process that we’re still trying to fully understand,” Burright said. “Despite their best efforts, there are still uncertainties over very long time scales that could represent future risk.”

Burright said closing the tanks could prevent the future removal of the 70,000 gallons of remaining waste should new technologies emerge. Plus, he said, there may be additional risks stemming from the million gallons of waste that have already leaked or spilled into the ground underneath the tanks on the site. 

The Oregon Department of Energy is holding its own informational meeting on the issue at 6:30 p.m. after the U.S. Department of Energy’s informational meeting from 3-5 p.m. in Portland on Tuesday. Both meetings will be held at the same location, the Eliot Center at the First Unitarian Church, 1226 SW Salmon St.

Judge approves auction of Oregon beef packer assets

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

A state judge has authorized a defunct Oregon beef packer to auction its assets since no buyer has committed to purchase the facility as a package.

On Oct. 15, Lane County Circuit Judge Charles Carlson agreed to a request by Richard Hooper, a court-appointed receiver, to hold an auction for the equipment owned by Bartels Packing of Eugene, Ore.

Earlier this summer, Hooper had notified the court that a “letter of intent” had been submitted by a buyer who planned to keep the slaughterhouse and processing facilities operational.

At this point, however, the prospect of a buyer re-opening Bartels as a “going concern” doesn’t appear viable so the company would prefer to offer its assets for auction as a lot rather than allowing bidders to “cherry pick” items, an attorney for Hooper said at the hearing.

Some of the equipment is computerized and only a few years old, so the auctioneer plans to avoid starting with low minimum bids to achieve the best prices, Hooper said.

An attorney for Chris Bartels, the company’s owner, raised the possibility of certain items fetching the best value if sold separately apart from the auction.

However, the judge said there was “no question” an open auction would be the most effective venue and approved the event, with the provision that it can be called off if a buyer is found for the entire company.

Bartels Packing shut down operations in March and laid off more than 140 employees, citing the loss of a major customer and continuing sales declines.

At the time of its closure, the company had a total debt of $8.3 million — including $4.6 million owed to cattle suppliers and feedlots — with assets worth roughly $14 million.

Apart from owing money to livestock producers, Bartels stopped participating in cattle auctions, where the company was considered an important buyer of local and grassfed cows.

According to court documents, a property lease for the Bartels facilities is expiring early next year, so the auction would most likely take place by mid-December.

Oregon Measure 103 Asks: Should Grocers Have Constitutional Protections?

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

In an election year when Oregonians will make weighty decisions on abortion and immigration policy, the ballot measure attracting the most cash has to do with the humble grocery cart. In what amounts to a pre-emptive strike at new taxes on grocery chains — and the farms and factories that supply them — large grocers are dumping millions of dollars into passing Measure 103. “Keep our groceries tax free!” say ads blanketing the airwaves, plastered to websites, waiting at your grocery store’s check stand. The messages are so pervasive, you might think there’s currently a statewide proposal to slap a tax on your supermarket.

There isn’t. Instead, Measure 103 would change the Oregon Constitution, prohibiting lawmakers from imposing a new “tax, fee, or other assessment” on the “sale or distribution” of groceries, if one is proposed in the future. In doing so, it would largely freeze in place the tax structure that grocers and their suppliers operate under today. “There are really only two sides of this measure,” says Joe Gilliam, president of the Northwest Grocery Association, the leading advocate for Measure 103. “Those who want to keep their groceries tax free and those that want to tax groceries and continue to come up with proposals to tax your groceries.”

More On Oregon Ballot Measures: 104 | 105 | 106 In Oregon’s longstanding debate over how to pay for public services, specifically taxing grocery sales isn’t likely to gain any traction. Even states that have a sales tax — a concept Oregonians have repeatedly shot down — typically exempt groceries. “We don’t have a sales tax on groceries,” says Katherine Driessen, a spokeswoman for advocacy group Our Oregon, which has pushed repeatedly for higher corporate taxes in the state. “Certainly nobody’s proposing one. It’s a complete non-starter.” Yet Gilliam and his allies argue other recent proposals would have amounted to a tax on groceries. Most prominent is Measure 97, a 2016 ballot proposal to create a new 2.5 percent tax on corporate sales of more than $25 million. Grocers played an outsized role in convincing voters to resoundingly reject that measure, claiming it was a sales tax in disguise. Measure 103 backers also say proposals for taxes on sugary beverages — including an effort in Multnomah County that was delayed earlier this year — are a looming threat to Oregon grocers. Their proposal would make such taxes impossible. “Most of the folks on the other side of the measure have kind of brought us to this point,” Gilliam says. Gilliam argues Measure 103 is a straight-forward way to make sure that food and beverages are kept out of future conversations about how to pay for public services. (The proposal does not cover sales of grocery store staples that aren’t meant for consumption, such as toilet paper. Alcohol, cannabis products and tobacco are also not included, though e-cigarettes aren’t contemplated by the measure.) But Measure 103’s opponents say it’s far more complicated than that. They say the measure would lock sloppy, confusing language into the state’s constitution, where it will be difficult to fix or remove. And they say the measure could block big grocery chains from paying their fair share for state services in the future. “The very idea that we would risk putting something legally ambiguous into Oregon’s Constitution just doesn’t make any sense at all,” says Becca Uherbelau, executive director of Our Oregon. As a chief opponent to Measure 103, Uherbelau helms a coalition that includes unions, dozens of community and advocacy groups and a list of businesses that includes Nike. The same groups are opposing Measure 104, another anti-tax proposal that would make it harder for the Oregon Legislature to raise new revenue. One of their central arguments against Measure 103: That it’s vague and overbroad. The measure prohibits new taxes on the “sale or distribution of groceries” and goes on to define those terms in a way intended to capture not just grocery stores, but any entity in the grocery supply chain. Our Oregon says that definition creates huge complications. An analysis from the group’s attorney suggests the measure would wind up prohibiting taxes on food sales at hospitals and trucking companies that haul groceries and even preempt changes to bottle deposits in Oregon. It’s not clear those arguments would hold legal weight. The Oregon Department of Justice has said that Measure 103 wouldn’t impact an assessment on hospitals that voters passed in January to fund Medicaid, and wouldn’t affect planned increases to the state’s gas tax for trucking companies that haul groceries. The Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative, which facilitates the Oregon Bottle Bill, says deposits would remain untouched. The measure’s opponents say those opinions won’t be enough to stop lawsuits if Measure 103 passes. Uherbelau believes companies will fight to win protections from taxes under the law. “The fact that we’re arguing over what it covers and what it doesn’t means there will be industries out there that say, ‘Oh it doesn’t cover me,’” she says. “It’ll cost the state of Oregon and local communities hundreds of millions of dollars to litigate these issues.” The best example of this confusion involves restaurants. According to the DOJ, Oregon eateries would be protected from new taxes under the law. Restaurants are even specifically included in the ballot language for the measure, a detail cheered by the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“A meal at a restaurant or from take-out is a regular and increasing part of many Oregonians’ busy schedules,” the group said in a voters’ pamphlet statement. “ORLA supports Measure 103 because it will ensure that such meals remain as affordable as possible without unnecessary and burdensome taxation.” Yet Gilliam insists most Oregon restaurants aren’t included. He points out that a provision in the measure singles out businesses regulated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and several other agencies. That list includes “take-and-bake” pizza places like Papa Murphy’s, Gilliam says, but not most other restaurants. He can’t say why the DOJ and others have reached different conclusions. “We sent a request in to the DOJ saying, ‘How did you get to your interpretation?’ And we have never received a response,” Gilliam says.

A DOJ spokeswoman also declined to clear up the matter for OPB, saying the agency’s role in writing ballot language for the measure had ended. But it’s worth noting the Oregon Supreme Court upheld ballot language that listed restaurants among the businesses the measure would protect. The factions for and against Measure 103 don’t look all that different from the fight over Measure 97 two years ago. And just as with that battle — the state’s most expensive ballot measure campaign — spending is lopsided. Public sector labor unions have bankrolled much of the more than $670,000 reported raised by the opposition campaign as of Oct. 9. Large grocery chains like Kroger and Albertsons/Safeway have put more than $4 million into backing Measure 103, between landing the proposal on the ballot and trying to sway voters. The American Beverage Association, a foe of sugary drink taxes, has also contributed $1 million. Of course, far smaller organizations have also taken positions on the measure. The Portland-based League of Minority Voters issued a statement in support of Measure 103 in the Oregon voters’ pamphlet. The group’s president, Promise King, says he’s concerned a hypothetical future tax on grocers could shutter grocery stores and impact access to food. He specifically mentioned ethnic groceries some of his group’s constituents rely on. “For us, it was just a no-brainer that we have to defend access to groceries for people that are elderly,” King said. “This is a fence.” The anti-Measure 103 campaign has support from some farms, small markets and restaurants that would be shielded by the proposal. It also has an ally in Tax Fairness Oregon, a Portland-based group that promotes progressive changes to the state’s tax code. Measure 103 “is very poorly written in its definition of what groceries are, and it could include so many different places we collect tax revenue that it’s ridiculous,” says Jody Wiser, the group’s founder. “You’re talking about taking out a huge piece of the economy, and that’s not OK to do that kind of carve out.”

Controlled burns in OR: Can more fires create less smoke?

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

About 30 members of the crew stood in the morning still of the forest as Katie Sauerbrey laid out the plans for the day. Some carried shovels or pickaxes. Others leaned against trucks and peered at maps of the area. All listened intently as she outlined the risks of their operation.

There were 1,000-foot cliffs that fell to the ocean. There were unmarked barbed wire fences. There was a steep drainage full of thorny blackberry bushes.

There would be fire. And they would be the ones to light it.

“With the primary carrier being tall grasses, this thing could move quickly,” she told the group. “We could get some tall flame lengths. Be prepared. Keep your head on a swivel.”

After the briefing, Sauerbrey, a preserve manager with The Nature Conservancy, led the crew — made up of folks from the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the Oregon Department of Forestry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and others — on the mile-long hike out to the 30-acre meadow they planned to burn at Cascade Head, a preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy a few miles north of Lincoln City.

Controlled burns like the one overseen by Sauerbrey are an important part of forest management, one of the tools officials use to try and make a dent in the massive buildup of fuels that has amassed over decades of aggressive wildfire suppression. But controlled burns face obstacles, namely air quality regulations that can limit their effects.

After the last two fire seasons, where portions of the state were inundated with smoke for months on end, officials have begun to ask: might it be wise to endure a small amount of limited smoke in the offseason to mitigate the smoky hellscape that’s become the norm over the last few years?

Tribes in the Pacific Northwest have used fire as a tool to shape the landscape for thousands of years. The touch of flame kept huckleberry and camas fields abundant. In areas where tribes hunted deer and elk, fire created a mat of forage plants on the forest floor, a favorite food for the ungulates. Burned areas recycle nutrients more efficiently and help to control the spread of invasive species.

“Done in a controlled way, as a management tool, as opposed to out of control, fire improves the resources the creator has given us,” said Cheryl Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. “This knowledge was instilled in us and we look forward to the day when these practices are as widely used as they should be.”

The tribes used rotating cycles of fires to keep land fresh. Hazelnut stands saw fire at least every 10 years, trees and bushes used for basket weaving were burned every three years or so. The frequency of the burns not only helped the plants grow. It also helped keep the landscape free of dry fuels.

The result would come to be known as the “10 a.m. rule,” which stated that fires should be contained by 10 a.m. the day following their initial report.

In Oregon, where more than half the state is public land, forests today look like nothing nature intended, more dense than at any point in recorded history.

“In some places there are 10 to 100 times more trees per acre,” said Mark Stern, director of forest conservation with The Nature Conservancy.

The change in forests has changed the way fire behaves in them, said John Bailey, a forestry professor at Oregon State University.

“Fire behavior is based on three things: landscape, weather and fuel,” he said. “The topography hasn’t changed, but there are many acres out there that have more fuel than they’ve ever had.”

What followed was decades of aggressive fire suppression leaving forests without the naturally occuring burns that cleared out dry fuels and underbrush. Left unburnt, many forests across the western United States now look as they never have before, brimming with fuel that has accumulated, in some spots, for more than 100 years.

“Fire needs to touch the land once every 10 years,” said David Harrelson, a cultural resources manager with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. “Without it, you leave room for catastrophic fires.”

The way fire is managed across the west changed drastically in the summer of 1910. By August, some 3,000 fires were burning across the west including blazes in the Wallowas, on the eastern flank of Mount Hood, in the Umpqua National Forest and on Huckleberry Mountain, just west of Crater Lake.

Along with increased temperatures from climate change, the buildup of fuels has played a role in dramatic fire seasons across the west during the last few years, which have been both costly and harmful to public health.

In 2018, wildfires from Washington to California to British Columbia blew smoke into the Portland area, causing unhealthy air quality for days on end. In southern Oregon, unhealthy air lasted for months.

In total, the state spent more fighting wildfires in 2018, nearly $515 million, than in any other year.

A problem of this scale, which spans millions of acres across numerous state lines, has no easy solution.

“We need it all. More thinning. More mechanical treatments. More prescribed burning,” Bailey said. “But it needs to be strategic. You want to look for areas that haven’t burned in a long time so, if a wildfire does start there, maybe it will be 5,000 or 10,000 acres instead of 100,000.”

On average, roughly 165,000 acres a year have been treated with controlled burns in Oregon over the last decade. Three times that area — about 470,000 acres a year over the past 10 years — have burned in wildfires. In 2018, wildfires scorched more than 830,000 acres in the state.

Still, there are examples of success. The Millie Fire, which burned nearly 25,000 acres in the Three Sisters Wilderness in 2017, could have been much worse had the area near the town of Sisters not been treated with controlled burns before the wildfire.

In 2017, the Eagle Creek fire scorched nearly 50,000 of Oregon’s most beloved acres in the Columbia River Gorge and rained ash and smoke on the state’s densest population center. That same year, the Chetco Bar fire in southwest Oregon burned for five months and scorched nearly 200,000 acres.

“Firefighters had a path to approach,” Sterns said. “(Controlled burns) not only make fires less likely to grow, they make them safer to fight.”

With fire comes smoke, though, and that’s been the big stumbling block in making wider use of controlled burns. The Oregon Smoke Management Plan, adopted in 1972 to conform with the federal Clean Air Act, essentially prohibits any controlled burn that results in visible smoke in a populated area. Every five years, the plan comes up for review and that process began early in 2017 with a series of five meetings across the state.

Among the stakeholders at those meetings was Carrie Nyssen, senior advocacy director for the American Lung Association, who sometimes felt like the odd person out at the meetings as one of the few who resisted the push to relax regulations.

“It’s a difficult issue for the Lung Association. It’s hard for us to support any policy that puts more smoke in the air,” she said. “But we know there is no option where there’s no smoke and we want to make sure folks in affected communities know when it’s coming, what there options are and where they can go.”

Joining Nyssen on the panels were public health officials, forest collaboratives, environmentalists, timber operators, elected officials and a tribal representative, all of whom aired their differences and forwarded a set of recommendations to state officials.

Among the recommendations: a relaxation of the threshold for smoke intrusions, but also an increase in communication to affected communities so arrangements could be made by those most vulnerable.

The benefits would be multifold, according to Bailey.

“If we proactively and consciously go after this buildup of fuels, it will reduce the amount of fire, the amount of money we spend on fire and the number of fatalities we have,” he said. “All of that equals less smoke in the air.”

State officials are reviewing comments on the proposed changes, which could be approved and put in place as early as January 2019.

Future Natural Resource Leaders meet in Scio

Capital Press Agriculture News Oregon -

SCIO, Ore. — Scio High School hosted the first-of-the-school year Future Natural Resource Leadership of Oregon Career Development Event on Oct. 11, drawing 193 students who competed in competitive activities that included forestry skills, tree and tool identification, first aid procedures, map reading, speeches and job interviews.

FNRL, chartered in 2016 to bridge the gap between classroom training and real world applications, is one of seven Career and Technical Student Leadership Organizations in Oregon. Students from Clatskanie, Corvallis, Knappa, Sabin (Milwaukie), Philomath, Scio, Sweet Home, Tillamook, Waldport and Yoncalla high schools competed in the events.

Rex Lowther, who has been teaching forestry, wood shop and small engine classes at Scio High School since 2004, said he was satisfied with this year’s event.

“As far as I know, Scio’s program started in the 1970s as the Associated Oregon Forestry Clubs and ended in 2008 when they lost their funding,” Lowther said. “A core group of instructors kept the CDEs going until FNRL of Oregon was chartered in 2014 and began chartering chapters in 2016.

“We had several industry volunteers help us on Thursday, which is great because it exposed the kids to different job opportunities. For instance, Jeannie Shuttleworth, a log buyer from Giustina Resources, was our job interviewer and two kids were asked to interview for real with the company,” he said. “The two foresters who were teaching compass and pacing are local and manage a large family tree farm. It is nice to have people who are in the industry support these kids and give them exposure to potential future careers.”

Each high school program is locally controlled and varies by needs of the communities, strengths of the advisers and direction of the local school district. The FNRL is a state Career Technical Student Organization and is basically the leadership portion of the program. The CTSO also hosts different events for students including leadership training and FNRL state convention.

“The primary difference is that our students at the chapter level have the opportunity to grow in their leadership abilities and work and share directly with industry professionals,” Lowther said. “These students gain valuable experience, which gives them opportunities to learn to communicate directly with industry professionals and share what we do not only in our local programs, but also as a statewide organization.

There are 24 students — 18 boys and 6 girls — in Scio High School’s forestry program.

“We are a little down from previous years mainly due to a decline in this year’s school enrollment,” he said. “We’ll be focusing on recruitment for next year to try to bring up the numbers a bit. There is a point of diminishing returns, however, because if we get too big then it limits what we can do as a class overall. The most effective number is 15 per class period.”

Scio High School senior Grant Ortiz, current FNRL president, was also happy to see the event going so well.

“I competed in my first CDE in middle school, so this one will be my eighth,” Ortiz said while waiting to compete in the log rolling contest.”

Scio always hosts the first meet of the season, the next one will be held in Tillamook in two weeks and then we won’t do any more until next spring,” he said. “This year’s event was different for me, though, because it is the first one I’ve participated in a leadership role.”

For more information on FNRL contact Kirk Hutchinson at 503-550-0471 or email him at hutchfnrl@gmail.com

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