- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, April 17, on giving the Pacific fish an endangered species listing

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made a reasoned, balanced decision not to list the Pacific fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Now it’s up to private timberland owners and others to live up to their commitment to support efforts to increase the animal’s population.

The fisher, a member of the weasel family, inhabits forests in the Pacific Northwest and California. While several threats do pose a risk to specific fisher populations, none of those affects the entire population, and federal wildlife officials say the animal is not in danger of going extinct, making Endangered Species Act protection unnecessary at this point.

The decision also recognizes the fact that the single biggest threat to the animals - trapping, which nearly wiped the species out in the late 1800s and early 1900s - ended many years ago.

Modern-day threats include rat poison used by growers of illegal marijuana plantations on federal land, some logging practices and wildfires. All of those threats still exist, the wildlife service determined, but none affects fisher populations everywhere they live. Marijuana grows, for instance, are present in Southern Oregon and northern California, but not in northern Oregon and Washington state, where the climate is less suitable. Logging practices affect fishers on private timberlands, but not in wilderness areas and public forests where no logging is taking place.

The Ashland Forest Resiliency Project, a cooperative venture of wildfire thinning and selective logging, is also a laboratory for biologists studying the fisher’s ability to adapt to those changes in its habitat. At the same time, the project is reducing the likelihood of wildfire, thus helping remove one of the threats to the animal.

Timber companies and small woodland owners have been working with federal officials to draw up agreements pledging to protect fisher habitat, including denning sites, on their lands and to work with wildlife managers to reintroduce fisher from other lands. In return, federal authorities agree to protect the landowners against additional restrictions should the animal ever be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

This cooperative approach offers a better solution than imposing restrictions on landowners beyond what is necessary to prevent extinction. Environmental activists should give the voluntary measures a chance to work.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, April 17, on protecting the Oregon spotted frog

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken’s recent, well-reasoned opinion and order in the Oregon spotted frog case makes it more clear than ever that the courts can be a really bad place to set public policy. The frog’s needs cannot and should not be considered in a vacuum.

As you may remember, the lawsuit from two environmental groups is aimed at the water management of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Central Oregon, North Unit and Tumalo irrigation districts. Water from the Deschutes River is diverted and used to fill reservoirs. The stored water is then released in the warmer months for irrigation.

That creates dramatic changes in flows in the Deschutes River. Flows in the Upper Deschutes can decline to a relative trickle of only 20 cubic feet per second in the winter.

WaterWatch of Oregon and the Center for Biological Diversity argue that unnatural disruption hurts and kills the Oregon spotted frog. The frog is listed as a threatened species.

Aiken’s recent opinion and order was in response to a request for a preliminary injunction made by the environmental groups to alter the use of the reservoirs so that the river flow would be completely natural or maintained at least at 770 cubic feet per second. She denied the injunction.

It’s her reasoning that is so informative. She is not saying the Oregon spotted frog is not harmed. She is not saying it is harmed. She wrote: “Here, the record does not clearly support the finding that plaintiffs requested relief would significantly improve conditions for the spotted frog.”

Biologists and other experts disagree about what effect the proposed solutions would achieve. “It is not the court’s role to pick and choose among expert opinions,” Aiken continued, quoting another decision that found that a federal court lacks the scientific and technical expertise to determine how water projects “should be operated on a real-time, day-to-day basis.”

She also agreed with the defendants that the proposed relief would disrupt the collaborative efforts to find solutions. Moreover, it would “create certain hardship for farmers and ranchers, increase the flood risk for the city of Tumalo, eliminate the use of stored water for at least one irrigation district and potentially conflict with state water law.” It could even threaten other threatened species such as bull trout or steelhead.

We have yet to speak to anyone who thinks a low winter flow of 20 cubic feet per second in the Deschutes River is good enough. And we can understand why environmental groups would be frustrated by the slow, stumbling march to increase that flow and improve frog habitat. But what the court case has succeeded in doing is to make it more clear that the courts are a bad place to find a solution that works.

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Albany Democrat-Herald, April 13, on counties challenging the state’s land management plan

If you’ve been tracking all the various lawsuits filed by Oregon counties against other branches of government, you have a new entry on your list:

On Tuesday, another potential lawsuit emerged: Even before the Bureau of Land Management had issued a news release about its proposed new management plan for 2.5 million acres in Western Oregon, the 17 counties that are members of the Association of O&C; Counties said they would take the BLM to court over the plan.

Those 17 counties include Linn County. Benton County is not a member of the Association of O&C; Counties and has no plans to join the lawsuit.

When the counties file their lawsuit (and it seems to be more a question of “when” and not “if’), it will join a similar lawsuit filed by Linn County against the state of Oregon regarding management practices on the state’s forest trust lands.

Still to come: We expect to see in the next few weeks a lawsuit from Linn County and other Oregon governmental entities regarding the state’s new minimum wage law. The essential claim in that lawsuit likely will be that the wage increase represents an unfunded mandate handed down by the state and is therefore unconstitutional.

All of this litigation has been a long time coming, and it reflects a long-simmering frustration with federal and state policies that leaders in at least some Oregon counties believe have hamstrung their ability to provide basic, essential services to their constituents.

In the case of the O&C; lands, key issues are how much money from timber harvests each county will receive - and how much timber will be cut. It’s an important issue in Linn County, where budgets have been stretched thin as the timber cut from federal lands declines. But it’s an existential issue in counties, particularly in southwestern Oregon, with bigger chunks of O&C; lands, counties such as Douglas and Josephine. Not surprisingly, these are among the Oregon counties that have struggled to pay for services such as law enforcement.

The counties also will argue that the law requires a minimum harvest of 500 million board feet from the O&C; lands; the BLM’s draft plan calls for a modest increase in the timber cut, from 234 million board feet in 2015 to 278 million board feet.

The BLM’s plan also would set aside about 75 percent of the land into reserves for fish, water, wildlife and other “resource values,” and you can imagine how that plays in counties that are teetering on the verge of insolvency: Those counties have been trying for decades to figure out how to cash in on those other resource values in terms of tourism and recreation. It’s not an easy swap: for starters, jobs working in the woods pay a lot more than tourism and recreation jobs. And to add insult to economic injury, these federal forests often are in need of serious maintenance work after decades of neglect.

“Decades of neglect” also summarizes how many county leaders in Oregon feel about the federal and state governments. Commissioner Tony Hyde of Columbia County, one of the likely plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the new BLM proposal continues that trend: “There are many ways the BLM could have balanced jobs and revenues for vital county services while creating habitat for endangered species, providing clean water, recreational opportunities and improving fire resiliency,” Hyde said. “Once again, the federal government has failed the communities where these lands are located.”

Now, the frustration is boiling over into the courtroom.

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The Oregonian, April 14, on opening liquor sales to large grocery retailers

Ever notice how some bad ideas refuse to die?

Take, for example, the initiative being bandied about again by the large grocery retailers to grab some of the state’s lucrative market in alcoholic spirits.

We wrote back in December 2013 that this is a bad idea. Consider what happened with the liquor industry in Washington state when it let large grocers into the business in 2011. Since opening liquor sales to large grocers there, prices have gone up, while availability of variety and the number of independent sales outlets have shrunk.

All that would probably be fine in any other economic scenario. But Oregon makes a lot of tax dollars from the state controlled industry. For the latest biennium, liquor sales topped $1 billion for the first time ever. The result was more than $435 million in tax revenue to be divvied between the state and local governments, and toward mental health and addiction treatment services.

The latest initiative wants to eliminate the state’s role in liquor distribution and turn the industry private. Then, the idea is that state lawmakers would simply establish a new liquor tax to replace the revenue lost when the state is out of the business.

But there’s no guarantee that would happen.

There’s also no guarantee that prices wouldn’t rise precipitously once the market shakes out the smaller operators, just as what happened up north.

And perhaps the biggest concern for the consumer (besides the prices increases) and small spirits producer is loss of shelf space. Oregon’s rich diversity in small craft brewers and distillers survive because the state-operated system makes sure they have equal access to shelf space. But large retailers survive on volume and what sells best. That means there’s a high likelihood that your favorite small batch brewer or distiller may get crowded off the shelf.

Fact is that the current system is working. Liquor prices are consistent throughout the state; revenues continue to grow and help us all; and small, private distributors are free to grow their businesses as they see fit.

If you don’t believe that, visit the Beverage Barn in Bandon on U.S. Highway 101. Proof enough that Oregon’s liquor industry is doing fine just as it is.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 6, on allowing mountain bikes in protected wilderness areas

Proposed federal legislation to allow mountain bikes in protected wilderness areas is stirring up interest among both mountain biking and environmental groups.

“Outdated rules are keeping human-powered travelers from visiting some of America’s best public lands, notably its wilderness areas and National Scenic Trails,” the creator of the bill, the Sustainable Trails Coalition, argues. “These restrictions reduce public support for conservation and put our public lands at needless risk of irrelevance, development, and motorized mass tourism.”

The Colorado-based nonprofit group is proposing federal legislation, the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2015. It would undo the 1984 ban on mountain bikes in federal wilderness areas, undo the 1988 Forest Service ban on mountain bikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, bar the Forest Service from banning bikes on more sections of the Continental Divide Trail and stop the Forest Service from creating “recommended wilderness” areas and banning mountain bikes there.

The proposed legislation would also allow use of modern equipment such as chain saws and wheelbarrows to maintain trails in wilderness areas.

So far, the coalition has raised about 94 percent of its goal of $124,850, which it said will be used to hire Washington, D.C., lobbyists who have good connections in Congress.

The coalition said it thinks the chance of success is good because, “We will be working with a Republican-controlled U.S. House and Senate that philosophically favor limited government and oppose severe and overzealous regulation. …”

Environmental groups such as the Wilderness Society are, not surprisingly, unhappy with the bill. Society President Jamie Williams told Congress that the proposal threatens to wreck existing collaborations between mountain bikers and environmentalists, pitting them against each other.

The proposal also would violate both the letter and clear intent of the law, “which anticipated growing pressures for unforeseen types of mechanized use to impinge on the wilderness values the (1964 Wilderness) Act was designed to protect,” Williams said.

That intent was clear, he said: no temporary roads, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, and “no other form of mechanical transport.”

The coalition bill not only would open wilderness areas to all forms of mechanized recreation, it also would allow use of motorized vehicles and mechanized tools, threatening wilderness areas nationally, Williams said.

The Wilderness Act was the culmination of years of efforts to protect unspoiled areas. It also was a recognition that such natural areas haves value to society as a whole. Since the act was passed, about 110 million acres have been designated as protected wilderness.

In addition to the physical and economic benefits wilderness provides - including cleaning air, filtering water and providing a home for wildlife - wilderness offers an economic boost to nearby communities and a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Attempts to weaken the laws protecting wilderness should be rebuffed.

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