Your own Private Idaho (or Oregon)

Update 05/09/2017 – The Department of State Lands Board voted unanimously to keep the Elliot State Forest in public ownership and directed staff to explore other means of moving the property from the Common School Fund Trust. 

Update 04/03/2017 – It appears that State Treasurer, Tobias Read is having second thoughts on the matter and may be reversing his support of selling the Elliot State Forest to private interests.  That would make it 2-1 against, with the only supporter now being Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

As a former resident of the Gem State, I’ve been curious about a 1990’s film named “My Own Private Idaho” when it shows up in the guide as I’m channel surfing. The title of the film gives one the impression that it might be a movie about the wild and scenic portions of the western USA.  In actuality, the film is about a couple of homeless hustlers in Portland, Oregon that do whatever it takes to make a buck, including prostituting themselves.

The old adage that “Life Imitates Art” recently occurred in the Beaver State as the Oregon Land Board voted 2 to 1 to sell off the Elliot State Forest for roughly $200 million dollars to a Timber conglomerate.  This 93,000 acre chunk of publicly owned property contained, by some estimates, $500 Million dollars worth of lumber. The purchasers got a pretty good deal – spend $200 Million for something worth twice that amount.  But the deal is even sweeter when you get down to the details.  Once the timber company has raped and pillaged, extracted every last bit of income they can get, they have an option to sell the property back to the State for another handful of millions!  Then the taxpayers in Oregon can pay to clean up the mess, plant new trees and rebuild the forest (most likely to sell it off again in a few decades).

Couple all that with the fact that Oregon has the most lenient Forest Practices regulations in the West, and the newly minted Commander in Chief is attempting to do away with that pesky EPA, and you’ve got a recipe for taking the entire Forest down to bare dirt. Fish and Wildlife will be decimated.  Water, air and soil conditions will be horrendous.  And let me point this out one more time – they will sell this great wasteland BACK TO THE STATE OF OREGON!  You and I will again be owners of what we once owned, only now, it’s going to cost us millions of dollars and years of work and waiting before it will ever be considered a forest again. In the meantime, species of fish, plants and animals will suffer or completely disappear.

My entrepreneurial friends may wonder – how can I work such a lucrative deal myself?  It’s really quite simple! Simple if you happen to be be wealthy to begin with, or have access to venture capital funding  If that is you, then here’s all you need to do:

  1.  Identify a piece of Oregon Public Land that you can profit from
  2. Make campaign contributions to the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer candidates (Be sure to contribute to both parties candidates, just for insurance)
  3. Shortly after the election, make your offer to the State Land Board (Since you now “own” the 3 members of the Board, you’ll get approval for sure!)
  4. Take ownership of the property and begin extraction as soon as possible
  5. Once you’ve taken everything of value (timber, mineral resources, etc.) just walk away, it’s not your problem!
  6. Sell the property back to the State of Oregon for 10-20% of what you paid for it (This is your exit bonus)

That’s it!  You’ve now more than doubled your money.  You’ve sent the raw materials overseas so that foreign interests can profit by selling products made from those raw materials back to American citizens.

There are a few more ways you can maximize your profits, but I’ll save those bits of information for another post.  Come back soon and learn how to avoid property taxes, get income tax breaks on the profits.  And if you have the moral fortitude of our new president, you can even file for Chapter 11 and not have to pay back any loans you may have incurred to work the deal in the first place!  Yup, America is going be great again, starting right here in Your Own Private Oregon.

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.

5934479281_4887d64a86_b

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

 

 

 

 

 

Public Lands – a local perspective

Warning:  The following is not written with political correctness in mind.  Foul use of the English language may occur.

Overgrazed

A recent post on a popular social media site caught my eye the other day.  It was re-posted by a local resident and written by a VP from a local timber company regarding the use of Public Lands.  First off, I would like to commend the author for his effort.  The article was very well written and provided scientific and economic back up to support his position.  I felt he did an awesome job of getting his view across in manner which was in sharp contrast to another public lands debate happening across our state in another county.

The first point addressed by the author was the potential for tax revenues to county and local governments that could be gained if the Timber Industry was allowed to harvest on USFS lands.  A valid point.  Our local communities could use  a bump in tax revenue!  It would likely produce a few new jobs which would be helpful as well.

The other main point of the article provided some scientific data that showed that a portion of the timber on USFS managed land died and had therefore had lost it’s potential financial value to them. From that narrow perspective, that is a true statement. The timber industry cannot profit from dead/rotting trees.

Here is a link to the article I’m referring to.  Read and draw your own conclusions.

My only real issue with the article itself was that the science used to backup the authors statement also raised concerns regarding what might happen if the industry were allowed more access to Federal Lands for harvest purposes.

The main point of the chart and written summation was to highlight the number of board feet that were harvest/extracted vs. the number of board feet that died as compared to the growth of the forested land as a whole. It shows that for the time period of 2007-2010, .23 billion board feet of timber died on private land, .10 billion board feet died on State lands and 2.11 billion board feet died on federal land.  So from their perspective, the timber industry does a great job of extracting the resource before it dies on land they are in control of, whereas, because they can’t extract more from federal lands, a higher percentage of the available timber goes to “waste”.

I want to pause for a moment here and make sure there is some clarity with regards to land ownership:

Private land is property owned by the Timber Industry and/or private citizens that sell the their timber rights to the Timber Industry.

State land is owned by all citizens / taxpayers in Oregon and is managed by the State of Oregon Department of Forestry. It’s as much my land as it is your’s and the Timber Industry’s.

Federal land is owned by all citizens / taxpayers in the United States of American and is managed by the US Department of Forestry and/or the US Bureau of Land Management. It to is as much my land as it is your’s and the Timber Industry’s.

The scientific data provided shows the percentage of timber harvested over that time period compared to the growth of the timber.  On private land, they extracted 2.6 billion board feet annually or nearly 100% of the growth.  As the Oregon Forest Research Institute likes to tell us – timber is a renewable resource. That’s cutting it pretty close- they harvest 100% of what grows each year according to the data.  On our State land that they are allowed access to, they harvest .30 billion board feet per year or around 60% or the growth. On our Federal land, they only get to extract .23 billion board feet per year or around 10% of the growth.

Feeling sorry for the poor timber industry yet? Get the feeling that the percentage of federal timber land harvested might increase? They harvest all of what they grow on their land. They harvest a huge percentage of what grows on our state land.  I’m guessing their going to harvest a whole bunch of what grows on our federal land if they have their way.

They claim that if they were allowed back into Federal Lands to extract the timber resources that you and I own, they’d give a tiny percentage of their profits (via taxes) to the local counties and hire some new employees.  What they don’t tell us is that the vast majority of their profits would go to the corporate owners and shareholders.  I don’t really see the benefit here.  Why would I want the Koch Brothers, and other like them, to have the ability to add billions to their personal net worth by extracting my resources?

I’m of the opinion that my resources ( jointly owned with other taxpayers) are providing a benefit left as they are without being extracted.  Those dead and rotting trees serve a purpose too. Sure, the timber industry doesn’t get to exploit the resource and profit from it, but in trade we get things like less contaminated drinking water, places to hike and hunt and fish.  The counties and state get a huge economic boost from tourism related activity because not all of the State and Federal land is clear cut.  People from outside Oregon come here to hike and hunt and fish.  They leave a lot of dollars here in the local economy when they buy gas and groceries and rent cars and rooms and in my case, purchase a guided fishing trip.  If the Timber Industry had it’s way, I doubt as many folks would want to visit our state.  Where is the peace and beauty in hiking through clear cuts?

Clearcutting

 

Did you catch that?  I exploit the resource too.  Just like the timber industry does.  I pay for that opportunity though.  I buy a license to fish, I buy a license to guide and I pay a fee for the right to use government managed facilities (boat ramps).  I also support the local schools, sponsor little league teams, donate at scholarship banquets, get my guide truck and boat washed by the cheerleaders, math club, robotics team and other fundraising events.  I save up bottles and cans for the Outdoor School Program fundraisers.  The local folks that earn a living from the timber related industries do the same things.  They are the baseball coaches, school board members and the people that donate time and money for the benefit of the local community, just like me. I would even go so far as to guess that some shareholders of timber companies kick in some as well.  However, if you compared the amount of support us locals provide relative to our income, I would bet that we give up a hell of a lot more of our personal income than the timber execs give of theirs.

What irks me more than the article itself, are some of the comments on social media and a general lashing out by some local hard working folks.  There are some who blame the condition of the local economy on the “government” and environmentalists.  In their opinion, that’s the root of all evil.  They believe that the sole reason our local communities are depressed is because “tree huggers”  got all worked up over owls, salamanders and chubs and the government did nothing but help them.

This is where I have to stop again and point something out.  The “big bad government” is made up of a bunch of people hired by us taxpayers to manage our lands.  The local officials and employees of that management group we “hire” are our friends and neighbors.  They too send their kids to school, participate in fundraisers, pay taxes, etc.  They go to work everyday and do their best to manage our resources (air, water, trees, fish, wildlife, etc) for the public good.  The public means you and me, our children and future generations.  Not an easy task by any means.

I think we need to take a historical look at what ELSE was going on in the 1970’s and 1980’s when those damned hippie tree huggers moved in and screwed everything up, (with the backing of the government).  Do you recall what interest rates were back then?  It was known as a time period that is called the “Great Inflation”.  Interest rates were in the double digits, meaning mortgages rates were topping out at as high as 20%.  Think about that for a second. How in the world could you borrow money to buy a car or a home with rates like that.  Think maybe that had and impact on the housing market much?  Would that impact the timber industry and the communities that depended on it?  I draw a conclusion that if very few people in the US could afford to buy or build a home, that would have a significant impact on the timber industry.

I read somewhere recently that showed that the 1970’s and 1980’s were also a time when the timber industry made a major shift from manual labor production to automation.  In fact, the article stated that more jobs were lost from that shift than from environmental  movement and the housing slump combined. (I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.)  So what does that mean in layman’s terms?  It means that timber executives took the opportunity to invest in the latest technology (and probably received tax breaks for it), increased production (and profits) and eliminate jobs (meaning more profits).  Those smaller mills that could not make the investment in automation technology lost the ability to compete with the big boys and went out of business.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re way past due for the conclusion of this rant, and that is this:

The next time you start feeling that you’re about to be bent over and buggered, you might want to look back and take a peek.  I bet you’ll be surprised to see that it’s not the government or a tree hugger with his hand on your shoulder whispering sweet nothings in your ear.  It may very well be a timber executive – a corporate cattle conglomerate exec – a foreign mining company – or one of their bought and paid for politicians that’s about to ream you good.

I’m not trying to paint every timber company with the same brush.  We’ve got some smaller operations here locally that are hard working folks that support the community – like the guy that wrote the article that caught my attention.  I don’t doubt his sincerity with regards to the local community at all.  And as I said in the beginning, he made some very valid points to support his views and I applaud that.  However, there are other views and there should be balance with regards to the use of our public lands.

Don’t be so quick to buy into the propaganda spewed forth from the OFRI, the Bundy’s, the Koch Brothers and others.  It’s as much our land as it is theirs.  We the people have a say in how it is managed – for us and future generations.  Allowing it to be sold off to billionaires who simply want it to make more billions would be a crime against our children and grandchildren. Don’t buy into my opinion either. I have a pretty narrow view as well. I like my trees standing up, cleaning the water I drink and cooling the water where I like to angle for fish. It’s all perspective.

Tight Lines and Keep ’em Wet.

Dave

Mr Magoo for President, Wile E. Coyote for Senate, Inspector Gadget for the House

The last time I voted in any election was 1992. (The presidential candidates being Bush 1/Clinton 1/Perot). Since that time, I have not stepped behind the curtain to exercise my right. I’ve gone from skeptical all the way up to completely disgusted by our political processes. I don’t see that the “will of the people” has any bearing on the system.

In lieu of voting for talking heads, I’ve gone more grassroots – supporting and engaging in local and regional organizations that have an impact on issues that are important to me. At least there, my opinions and efforts have some significance. I’ve also written a letter or two to the representatives at various levels when I feel strongly about something, but that’s as far as I’ve cared to venture into the system.

Our elected officials overstepped their bounds recently and ignored the will of the people on a huge issue. A deal to end a long running water war here in the West was hammered out “by the people” on all sides of the issue, then handed over for congressional action. Instead of rubber stamping the plan, the gamesmanship began, special interests jumped into the fray and now the plan sits collecting dust. The solution was handed to them on a silver platter and now it appears that it will rot there. All parties to the plan will now go back to court, back to protesting, back to threatening, back to war.

Today, I registered to vote. Not because I suddenly believe in the system again, but because I want to be sure that I can at least cancel out someone else’s vote, maybe even cancel out two. With the way things are looking, we will have two laughable choices for president from the traditional 2 party system.  I doubt our congressional choices will be much better.

This is not what our founding father’s envisioned. But ignoring it doesn’t work for me anymore. It feels un-american to do this, but I plan to vote in protest of a broken system. Instead of voting for the lesser of 2 evils, I’ll vote against them both. Unless acceptable candidates make it through the primaries, I will be exercising my right to vote by writing in a candidate of equal ridiculousness – fictional or otherwise.

Dave