Monthly Archives: February 2016

Citizen Engagement

On the Oregon Legislature website, you’ll find the following:

The connection between citizens and their government is strengthened when the public has ample opportunity to have their concerns heard by the legislature.

Admittedly, my personal political background is very limited.  I remember the 1970’s Saturday Morning Cartoon from Schoolhouse Rock titled “I’m just a Bill”, bits and pieces from High School Government Class and a weekend in Boise where “young politicians” from Idaho Schools take over the Capital and reenact the political process as elected and appointed officials.

Yesterday I took a step forward in my advocacy of wild fish here in Oregon.  I engaged the political process. The Senator from my district, Fred Girod, agreed to meet with me to discuss some introduced legislation regarding use of suction dredge mining regulation in the State of Oregon.  I have some serious concerns about the practice as I feel it is harmful to our water and to the fish that reside in it.  I shared my concerns with the Senator and although he had some issues with the wording of the legislation and would be following party lines when and if it reaches the floor of the Senate, I felt the conversation was useful.  I learned that we have some things in common.  We both own homes on the banks of a river in the same watershed.  We both enjoy the sport of angling and even though we’re not on the “same page”, we’re at least somewhere in same book.

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Following the meeting with the senator, I stuck around to attend the public hearing on the matter before the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee. As a newbie to the world of advocacy, I decided that discussing the issue with my elected representative was as far as I wanted to venture into the process for right now. I did not sign up to testify and chose to be an observer for the remainder of the day. You can follow the measure on your own and read the submitted testimony on the Oregon State Legislature website at :

https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2016R1/Measures/Overview/SB1530

Although the basic premise of the process is just like the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon portrayed it, the reality of it all is more like a weird circus – complete with tight rope walkers, side show barkers and clowns.  The amount of gamesmanship and posturing is mind boggling.  This particular committee is made up of three democrats and two republicans, and as you can imagine, the questioning of witnesses followed party lines.  The republican senators grilled the witnesses in support of the bill, the democrat senators interrogated those in opposition.  There were reasonable questions and answers throughout, but there were also times when the questions (and answers) were asked (or answered) for the purpose of intimidation, embarrassment or to outright bully the witness (or committee member).  There were a lot of facts presented, with scientific and/or economic backup to support it. There was also a whole lot of fiction and personal opinion presented as well.

I was doing pretty good at being impartial until one of the miners made the claim that suction dredges are good for the fish and the river because it loosens the gravel and is no different than a natural flood event.  I fail to see how vacuuming up spawning beds and disbursing a flume of fine sediment downstream is beneficial to fish and water quality.

The flume contains the remnants of our history of resource extraction – pesticide, herbicide and petroleum residue from logging and agriculture practices – arsenic, mercury, sulfuric acid and other toxic materials from mining practices – asbestos, solvents and salts from road runoff. How in the “@#*&%” is that good for water and fish?  This is the same water my kids swim in during the summer months!  This is the same water that is provided to my home for drinking, cooking and washing by the local water district! There’s a high profile story in the news right now regarding something very similar.  Google the words “Flint + Michigan” to learn more.

Overall, it comes down to extraction of public resources vs. protecting and conserving the environment.  Those in support of the measure are on the side of clean water, endangered species and don’t want to see the hundreds of hours of work and millions of dollars spent on habitat improvement destroyed for the sake of a few flecks of gold.  Those in opposition to the measure want to pursue their hobby based on a historical right to extract resources and not be subjected to any new rules or regulations.  They want what is “theirs”, they want it right now and they want to be able to do it under rules that were established nearly 150 years ago in the 1872 mining act.

I’d like to think that as a society we’ve learned a few things in the past century and a half. Maybe some of the ways we used to do things weren’t such a good idea and we can adjust and evolve. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If the hobby mining community can figure out a way to extract gold from my backyard without poisoning me, my family and the fish I enjoy catching, then I’m OK with it.  But until then, I’m going to keep supporting efforts to stop it.

Tight Lines.

Dave

 

More on Public Lands

Update 02/05/2016:  USFS & BLM released new grazing rates earlier this month.  For 2016, grazing on federally managed land was increased to $2.11 AUM.

A comment I made on a social media site last week angered an old friend.  He’s a guy I grew up with and attended the same school with for 11 years.  We played football together for a few years. (He put a good hit on me in high school practice that dislodged the cartilage in my left knee.  I think of him often during winter steelheading season when the arthritis kicks in, but that’s another story.)

I remember going to wrestling matches and cheering him on and I remember seeing him at basketball games hollering and cheering us on. I particularly recall the days leading up to a wrestling match. I’d see him in layers of sweat gear, running up and down the hallways of school before class, after class, during lunch breaks, etc., working his ass off to make weight for the upcoming event. I admired his work ethic and dedication to his chosen sport. He was a natural leader – active in numerous clubs and organizations. I haven’t seen or spoken with him in probably 20 years, but have little doubt he continues to have that same work ethic and dedication in his chosen profession.

My old friend is a cattle rancher.  His parents and grandparent were cattle ranchers. I honestly don’t know how many generations that goes back, but assume it’s several. Their property is one of the most beautiful places on this earth, headquartered in an “in-between” location of high desert plateaus and forested high country in Southern Idaho.  It’s one of those places that folks would refer to as “God’s Country”. I can understand his frustration and anger.  He’s scared and angry because his way of life is fading away.  And worse yet, it’s fading away on his watch.  I’d be angry too.  I can even relate to some of what he’s experiencing. I’ve spent 30 years of my life in an industry that is changing and looks to be heading towards an end.

What I’ve been able to glean from his comments is that he sided with the Bundy Group on the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge – specifically about the unfair treatment of the Hammond’s and what should be done with public lands.  In my opinion, the Hammond’s were found guilty of breaking a law by a jury of their peers and were sentenced accordingly.  Criminal justice is not my forte and I have nothing further to say in that matter. I do have some strong feelings regarding public land, which I’ve commented on in a previous post.

So let’s try to look at that issue from the Bundy perspective for a moment. The basic premise was to give ownership of Federal Land to the people.  What is the fair and equitable way to do such a thing?  Does that federal land go to the State, the County, or to the individual residents? In the case of federal land in Harney county, that’s roughly 7,500 square miles of land.

If the State of Oregon takes ownership of the that land, it creates some problems.  The state is not staffed, nor has the budget to manage that property right now.  The State has more lenient environmental regulations that the feds do.  Good for capitalism, bad for people, wildlife and the tourism industry.  Not so good for cattle ranchers though.  Their grazing fees would go from $1.50 per AUM (Animal Unit Month) to around $8.00 per AUM.  If Harney County takes ownership of that land, it compounds the same problems the State would have – staffing for management and administration, budgeting, establishing fees and permit charges, etc.

If a governmental agency of any sort owns the land (State or County), there will be a drive to privatize it.  If they can’t charge enough in fees to cover the expenses, the land would likely be sold to the highest bidder at some point down the road.  Politicians will be involved. Who do you think will end up with the land in that scenario?  Small family ranchers, well funded environmental groups, large corporate timber-mining-cattle operations?  My guess is that it won’t be the small family rancher like my old friend in Idaho. My fear is that it will be large corporations. I doubt there will even be a public bidding process for it – the politicians are beholding to others that have funded their campaigns and I’d bet the land is already divided up to contributors just waiting for things to become official.  In that case, the resources will be exploited, the environment will be destroyed and small time cattle, timber and agriculture operations will turn to dust. Those cattle ranchers that survive may get the opportunity down the road to obtain grazing leases on that land, but only after all the uranium, gold, silver, trees and everything else has been extracted from the open pit mines and clear cuts. The water supplies will likely be contaminated with solvents, heavy metals and other waste materials, so they’ll have to bring in their own water.

So what happens if we “give it to the people”.  The first question I ask is “what people”? Is it divided up to every man, woman and child who is a resident of the State of Oregon?  If that’s the case, we all get 1.22 acres of land in Harney County.  Yeehaw!  I’ll take my one acre straddling the Donner und Blitzen River, thank you very much.  Is that land in question divided up among the residents of Harney County?  They’d all get 908 acres of land to do with as they please.  That’s enough to make me want to establish residency there so I get a share of it.  Oh wait. If I own it, then I’m going to be on the hook for the State of Oregon property taxes levied against it.  How will the single mother who works at the McDonald’s in Burns, OR afford to pay the property tax on her 908 acres?  Well, she could lease it out as private grazing land and make the going rate of $24.00 per AUM.  I’m sure the local ranchers will be knocking down her door with those sort of offers. Or she call sell it to a corporate mining or timber company. We already explored that path and it doesn’t end well.

As a final idea, let’s give it to the original inhabitants of the area – The members of the Paiute Indian Tribe.  They’d each receive 15,693 acres.  Historically, they have the best track record when it comes to being stewards of the land.  They used the resources from that land very efficiently for hundreds of years without exploiting or destroying it.

Sure, the options I’ve laid out are worse case scenarios. But what my old friend is advocating does have some serious consequences.  If the land remains in the public trust, managed by the federal government, ranchers are asked to pay the $1.50 AUM for grazing, Sportsmen get access for hunting, fishing, camping, bird watching and some level of oversight is there from an environmental perspective to make sure the land is taken care of.

If the land goes into State ownership, the ranchers pay $8.00 AUM, Sportsmen likely lose some access, environmental protections are reduced and ultimately, the ownership will transfer to corporate interests.

And finally, if the land goes to private individuals, ranchers will pay $24.00 AUM, Sportsman will likely lose ALL access, environmental protections are a free for all and dependent on each individual’s views.  Most likely, that land will find it’s way into corporate interests as well at some point.

For me, it all leads back to the status quo, with the addition of things like Malheur Comprehensive Conservation Plan and the Klamath Basin Agreement worked out jointly by the local stakeholders – farmers, ranchers, conservation groups, environmentalists, local residents, sportsmen, utility providers, politicians and governmental management agencies. Although the second example died while collecting dust in DC, the idea was a great one and many of it’s key components will happen regardless.  The point being is that all parties can come to the table and come up with a workable solution.  No one party wins, but we all get a place at the table and get something in the end.  Ultimately, we’re just borrowing this earth from future generations and we have a responsibility to pass it on to them in better shape that we found it.  So far, we haven’t done a very good job of that.

So to my old friend I say this.  I feel for you.  It sucks that your way of life and livelihood is going away. No amount of yelling, screaming or bullying (armed or not) is going to help your current situation.  You’re getting the best deal available as it is right now.  The transfer of federal public land to anyone else will not make things better for either of our causes. I would welcome the opportunity to have a civil dialog in order to find common ground that benefits us both.

Tight Lines and Keep em wet.

Dave