Editorials from around Oregon

November 15, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 14, on Oregon counties asserting authority over federal lands

People who supported the aims but not the tactics of last year’s armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge think they’ve found a way to gain a greater degree of local control over federal lands. Last week the Crook County commissioners adopted a Natural Resources Policy that asserts a doctrine of “coordination” based on federal law. The doctrine would give the counties what amounts to veto power over federal land management decisions. Supporters of this approach are bound to be disappointed.

Close to half the land in Crook County is managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management — and if some of those agencies’ decisions were put to a local vote they’d be soundly defeated. Crook County’s economy has historically depended on logging and ranching, both of which have been curtailed in recent decades by federal environmental and land management laws.

But there’s a reason the agencies’ decisions aren’t subject to local votes: The Forest Service and BLM manage public lands on behalf of all Americans, not just those who live nearby. Crook County can’t dictate how many cattle can graze on BLM rangeland, or how much timber should be logged in the Ochoco National Forest, because citizens in the nation’s 3,141 other counties and parishes also have a right to insist that their ownership interests are protected.

Federal laws governing public lands generally grant local communities a role in decision-making, and federal agencies are required to coordinate their policies with state and local authorities. Crook County has taken this requirement and pushed it beyond the limit. Coordination, the Natural Resources Policy claims, essentially means that federal lands must be managed in ways that reflect local priorities.

Baker County in Eastern Oregon and Owyhee County in Idaho have approved similar policies, and the idea seems likely to spread. Its chief legal theorist is Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen, who visited the Crook County seat of Prineville last March. “The federal statutes are so broad that it’s actually not that hard to write a local land use plan that is completely in line with federal statutes,” The (Portland) Oregonian quoted her as saying. Budd-Falen was a member of President Trump’s transition team, and her name is mentioned as a potential nominee to lead the BLM.

Even as head of the BLM, Budd-Falen would be stymied in any attempt to surrender much of her agency’s authority to local governments. In a landmark 1987 decision, Granite Rock vs. California Coastal Commission, the Supreme Court upheld federal supremacy in the management of federal lands. Neither the White House nor Congress is likely to pursue an erosion of this supremacy — whether they favor preservation or exploitation of natural resources on public lands, the executive and legislative branches don’t want their priorities vetoed at the local level.

Coordination can and does occur in many forms of federal land-use planning. Examples include the collaborative plans developed for both the Malheur refuge and the Ochoco forest. These plans attempt to balance competing interests — a difficult but often fruitful effort that Crook and other counties should continue to pursue.


East Oregonian, Nov. 14, on poaching punishment

This hunting season, plenty of deer and elk have been harvested from the fertile mountains of Eastern Oregon.

Many of them were taken legally. But too many were not.

Poaching has been a problem since the first king laid down the first rules for hunting. And it continues to this day to be a concern for hunters, as well as other Oregonians who use their tax dollars and their management practices to protect and lawfully and ethically harvest our state’s bounty of nature and protein.

Just this year, multiple violations have been witnessed by police and ethical hunters, from Heppner to La Grande and from Tollgate to Ukiah. Animals senselessly slaughtered for their antlers or for nothing at all — blood lust or stupidity. When that happens, everyone loses — though no one more than the animal itself.

Last year, a Pendleton hunter and guide — a former board member for the Mule Deer Foundation — admitted to illegally killing one of the state’s largest mule deer. For his crime, he paid $8,500 restitution and his hunting license was suspended for three years. Also in 2016, an Elgin trio was charged with killing and wasting two bull elk. Then there was also the illegal poaching of bighorn sheep from alongside Interstate 84 in Gilliam County. Wolves have been killed in suspicious circumstances from the Blue Mountains all the way to Klamath Falls. And in Tuesday’s police log, we noted a man allegedly driving drunk down Highway 11 with a poached deer in the bed of his pickup.

And these are just the few high-profile or highly stupid, isolated incidents that law enforcement are able to build a case around. Much more often, investigators are not able to pin a crime on anyone, or those crimes go undiscovered in the first place. It is exceedingly difficult to get convictions on game crimes.

There are two kinds of poachers: those who purposely take illegal actions, knowing full well their mistake, and are unable to stop themselves or frankly just don’t care. But there are also hunters who have every intent of following the law, but make in-the-moment errors in judgment or fact. For them, self-reporting an error is critical. But a much better option is going back to basics: Before you take any shot, look closely at your animal. Look at it again. Look at what is on its head, look at what is behind it, know what is legal with your tag in your unit.

The best way to defeat poaching is good ethical hunting practices. The sport relies on it for safe and reasonable harvest that reduces pain and unnecessary harm. It must be taught from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters.

Yet we know that many poachers learned their poaching habits from their mothers and fathers — that’s where media and law enforcement must come in, and hunter’s education classes that are required for young hunters.

We must teach and promote the right way to do it, and we must punish those who fall short.

In our opinion, a continual reminder of hunting ethics must be in tandem with increased punishments. It does not seem too cruel, harsh or unusual for a poaching crime to cost a person their hunting privileges for the rest of their life.

And poaching an animal that the state has sunk significant resources into — by conserving necessary habitat, paying for game wardens and biologists and attorneys — should cost a criminal a significant dollar amount if they are convicted. On top of it, they should pay for depriving other hunters of a lost opportunity to harvest.

In our book, it doesn’t matter whether the poached prey is an elk or steelhead, moose or wolf. Our outdoor heritage rests on playing by the rules. For the system to remain, those rules must be enforced and they must be followed.


Baker City Herald, Nov. 13, on transition to cleaner sources of energy

We understand the disdain some people have for hydroelectric dams.

They turn free-flowing rivers into stagnant reservoirs.

They interfere with, or block altogether, the migration of anadromous fish such as salmon and steelhead.

But these dams also produce copious amounts of electricity, reliably and, unlike coal, without spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Hydropower also has advantages over other renewable sources, such as wind and solar, most notably that hydro plants can produce power constantly.

All of which explains why we hope the U.S. Senate gives serious consideration to a bill the House of Representatives passed last week. The legislation is designed to make it easier for hydroelectric plants to be licensed by the federal government.

This doesn’t necessarily mean building dams, though.

The House bill was prompted in part by the reality that the nation’s existing dams represent a source of clean, renewable energy that’s barely been tapped. Just 3 percent of the country’s 80,000 dams generate electricity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The bill, if it becomes law, might not have a major effect on the Northwest, which already relies far more heavily on hydropower than other regions. Almost 70 percent of the electricity generated in Washington is derived from water turning turbines, and Oregon’s and Idaho’s shares both exceed 50 percent.

Nationally, though, hydroelectric dams account for just 7 percent of the electricity supply.

House Republicans who voted for the bill, including Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, contend that the nationwide share of hydropower could be doubled without building any dams, but by installing turbines at larger dams and locks on major rivers such as the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas.

The bill’s critics raise legitimate questions about the details. The bill would make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the lead agency for issuing hydropower licenses, and require states to defer to the agency. This raises the specter of private companies pursuing hydropower projects over the objections of local residents.

Still and all, we’re optimistic about the prospects of Congress formally recognizing the vital role that hydropower can, and should, play in America’s transition to cleaner sources of energy.

In addition, we hope the bill will convince Oregon lawmakers to reconsider their peculiar aversion to defining as “renewable” the massive amounts of electricity generated by the federal dams on the Columbia River. That energy is not considered “qualifying electricity” in the state law that mandates large utilities obtain a certain amount of their energy from renewable sources.


Corvallis Gazette-Times, Nov. 12, on gun checks, mental health adding to gun control debate

The issue of gun control is as divisive as they come in American politics, but there actually are at least a couple of points on which we have general agreement.

Here’s one of those points: The FBI’s background-check system for gun buyers — which includes records of criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and other red flags to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them — should be as complete as possible.

Here’s another: Better mental health care in the United States could play a big role in stopping the mass shootings which occur in this country with numbing frequency.

If you’re nodding in agreement now, maybe you should stop: The Washington Post reported on Friday that the FBI’s database is missing millions of records of people who likely should not have access to firearms. That list includes the gunman who last weekend killed 26 people at a Texas church; he had been convicted at a court-martial of charges stemming from a domestic violence case, but the Air Force didn’t notify the FBI. So when the gunman bought weapons at a retail store, he cleared his background check.

The Air Force isn’t alone in its failure to pass along potentially important information to the FBI’s database: Some estimates suggest that about 7 million records are missing from the system, the Post reported.

The FBI and others have known for years about its big gaps in this database; in fact, the Post noted, the government funded a four-year effort beginning in 2008 to try to get a sense of how many records were missing, but that effort was abandoned because of its cost. In 2016, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that was aimed in part to improve the quality of the gun-check database.

Part of the problem is that local and state government law enforcement agencies vary widely in terms of the information they provide to the FBI. For their part, those agencies often say they don’t have the necessary resources to keep current information flowing to the FBI. And there is some confusion as to what information is required to be provided for the database.

But if you wanted to focus on just one area to improve, it would be information regarding domestic assault convictions: The gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety has conducted a study concluding that more than half of recent mass shootings (54 percent) were related to domestic or family violence.

We can argue, and we will, about other gun control measures. But we should not allow that debate to distract us from an opportunity to start plugging some of the biggest holes in the primary safety net we have to try to catch people who should not have access to guns.

As for the argument that better mental health care could help prevent tragedies like the Texas shooting or the massacre in Las Vegas: There’s no doubt that the United States needs better mental health care. But experts say it’s unlikely to do much to prevent mass shootings, because the sorts of people who tend to commit mass murder often are not mentally ill or don’t see themselves as such, according to a recent article in The Atlantic. Mass murderers tend to blame the outside world for their problems, so they’re not good candidates for therapies that require self-examination.

In fact, experts say very little violence is actually committed by mentally ill people. The Atlantic quoted a psychiatry professor at Duke University, who said that curing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression would reduce overall violence by just 4 percent.

Don’t misunderstand: Those cures would be wonderful things. But the reason to fix our mental health system is not to stop mass shootings. The reason is to improve the lives of millions of Americans. That reason should be sufficient.


Medford Mail Tribune, Nov. 12, on forest thinning bill unlikely to limit fires

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden says a forest-thinning bill that passed the House Nov. 1 will dramatically reduce the severe wildfires that choked the region in smoke this past summer. If the legislation would accomplish that, it would be worth supporting. But there is plenty of evidence that it would not.

The bill calls for thinning overgrown forests and logging burned trees left after fires, and limits environmental review of proposed timber harvests.

Walden says “we can reduce the size and intensity of fire up to 70 percent, if we do the kinds of projects that thin out the forests and allow us to better manage and be better stewards of our federal forests.”

The “70 percent” figure may be wishful thinking, but there is truth in what Walden says — if the thinning is limited to small-diameter trees and overgrown brush that fuel destructive fires, and especially when the work is done near populated areas. The problem, as Rep. Peter DeFazio says, is how to pay for it.

Without logging larger, commercially valuable trees, thinning projects must be subsidized. And research has shown that removing larger, more fire-resistant trees makes destructive wildfires more likely, not less.

The House bill proposes to generate money to pay for thinning by salvage logging large burned trees and replanting. But researchers who studied the Biscuit fire of 2005 found that fire burned more severely in forests that were logged and replanted after previous fires than in areas that were left to regenerate naturally.

There’s another common sense point to be made — fires can start up anywhere among the 16 million acres of public and private forest lands in the state. And they won’t necessarily start in the vicinity of where the thinning occurred.

The House bill does address the issue of “fire borrowing,” the prohibition on spending federal disaster funds to fight wildfires. Under existing rules, the Forest Service must raid parts of its budget set aside for forest health projects to cover firefighting costs. Under the legislation, Federal Emergency Management Agency funds could be tapped to pay for fighting catastrophic fires. The White House, however, has indicated it does not support the bill as written because it would force competition for funding between wildfires and other disasters such as hurricanes.

Other legislation, with bipartisan support, would fix the fire borrowing problem without expanded logging and without removing environmental safeguards.

Projects to improve forest health and lessen the severity of wildfires are important and necessary. Allowing the Forest Service to stop spending money it had budgeted for restoration work on fighting fires instead should be the top priority.

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