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Timber deal could help here

The deal announced last week that will at least temporarily keep the saws spinning in Grant County’s last lumber mill could help Baker County, too.

But not necessarily in a purely economic sense.

We certainly hope that the template unveiled for the Malheur National Forest, which is mostly in Grant County and a vital source of logs for Ochoco Lumber Co.’s Malheur Lumber mill in John Day, can be replicated on our local Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

But we doubt that would resurrect Baker County’s lumber industry, which crumbled when Ellingson Lumber Co. closed its Baker City mill in 1996.

Although the Forest Service has pledged to increase the amount of timber cut on the Malheur, and to maintain a minimum supply over the next several years, the amounts, were they matched or even slightly exceeded on the larger Wallowa-Whitman, probably aren’t sufficient to justify the multimillion-dollar investment to open a new mill.

That said, we’re intrigued by the Forest Service’s newfound commitment to dealing more aggressively with the problems plaguing significant swathes of the Malheur.

Those problems, which include forests with too many trees per acre, and in some places firs growing where ponderosa pines and tamaracks used to predominate, exist on the Wallowa-Whitman as well.

Such forests are vulnerable to insects and diseases, and to the destructive wildfires that so often follow.

The Forest Service has been whittling away at this challenge for the past 20 years or so. On both national forests (as well as the Umatilla, the third of the Blue Mountain forests), much of the logging that has happened during that period has involved thinning overcrowded forests or removing encroaching firs.

The main obstacle to this effort has not been legal obfuscation by environmental groups, but Congress’ failure to give the Forest Service the money it needs. Unlike historic timber sales, when Forest Service offers were comparatively flush with receipts from auctioning valuable old growth ponderosa pines, these modern “commercial thinning” projects often require significant subsidies of public dollars to pencil out.

Regional Forester Kent Connaughton acknowledged as much in a recent letter he wrote to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Connaughton noted that although the Forest Service’s goals for the Malheur in 2015 include working on 30,000 acres, yielding 75 million board-feet of timber, the agency will need to allocate almost $4 million.

That money’s not in the bank.

The Forest Service has set aside $2.5 million for the Malheur, though.

That’s a good start.

If that money becomes, in effect, the bucketful that primes the federal pump, then public forests across the Blue Mountains and the thousands of people who use them every year, stand to benefit as their favorite places are less likely to burn.

Welcome price trend

You might have noticed an unfamiliar sound in your home this week.

A sort of background hum, soft but consistent.

Your furnace, which has had quite a nice vacation,was awakened from its summer slumber by the first chilly mornings of impending autumn.

For many people, the welcome warmth of air exhaling from grates is tempered by the knowledge that heat isn’t cheap.

But for local residents who rely on natural gas to ward off winter’s chill, it is at least cheaper.

Or soon will be, anyway.

Cascade Natural Gas, which has several hundred customers in Baker City, has filed a request with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) to trim its rates by 17.42 percent for residential customers. Cascade proposes cuts of 20 percent to 22 percent for commercial and other customer groups.

The PUC, we’re confident in saying, won’t say no when it considers Cascade’s application in late October.

(The agency is more inclined to balk at requests to increase rates.)

The reduced rates will take effect Nov. 1.

We’re not talking about a windfall, of course.

Cascade estimates that a typical residential customer will save about 10 bucks a month.

Still and all, with gasoline pushing $4 a gallon, and food prices expected to rise substantially due to the Midwest drought, knowing that the next cold snap won’t siphon quite so much from your budget is not cold comfort.

A healthy crop of candidates

Turns out we needn’t have fretted about Baker City residents lacking interest in serving their community.

When the deadline to file as a City Council candidate passed on Aug. 27, the list of names was lengthy — gratifyingly so.

Nine people are vying for the four seats on the seven-member council that will be filled in the Nov. 6 election.

That number adds an element of competition to the election that would be absent were there, say, just four candidates. And competition, besides giving voters a true choice, tends to lead to more robust debates about which issues the City Council should concentrate on over the next few years.

The roster of candidates includes Milo Pope, one of the two incumbents eligible to run for re-election.

Incumbents Sam Bass and Beverly Calder are precluded from running due to the term limits clause in the city charter.

The fourth incumbent, Aletha Bonebrake, is eligible but she declined to run due to time commitments with her work as a library consultant.

The nine candidates offer voters a variety of choices.

There are, in addition to the incumbent, Pope, a pair of former Baker City Council members in Richard Langrell and Terry Schumacher.

Kyle Knight is a current member of the Baker School Board, and Mike Downing has served as an pro tem Justice of the Peace for Baker Justice Court.

Jack Turner is the former publisher of the Baker City Herald. Kimberley Mosier is a former deputy district attorney in Baker County. Barbara Johnson is a member of the group Concerned Citizens of Baker City, which successfully lobbied the City Council to pass a resolution supporting the overturning of the Citizens United case regarding political campaign contributions. R. Mack Augenfeld is a retired businessman who has a master’s degree from Fordham University.

An intriguing group, to be sure.

We expect to learn more about the candidates’ ideas for the city’s future over the next several weeks, including at the American Association of University Women-sponsored candidates forum set for Oct. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Baker High School Commons, 2500 E St.

Information about the candidates is available on the city’s website, www.bakercity.com, and the Herald will publish a voters guide next month.

Flier lacks one key detail

The flier that recently arrived in local mailboxes, bearing the headline “Meet your 5J School Board members,” probably confused more than a few recipients.

It had us a bit perplexed, at least initially.

Maybe it was the drawing of an archetypal school, complete with a belfry, that led us to believe the document was an official publication of the Baker School District.

The pamphlet certainly resembled, and more than superficially, other correspondence the district has mailed to its patrons in recent years.

Turns out we were mistaken.

School Board Chair Lynne Burroughs, who along with board member Mark Henderson is featured in the flier (don’t be misled by that “meet your board members” — you only really meet two of the five), said she produced and paid for the publication.

Burroughs told the Herald that her three sons donated $2,000 for the project.

Trouble is, nothing in the pamphlet suggests that it was created completely independent of the school district.

It would be quite reasonable, in fact, for a patron to assume that either tax dollars, or school district employees’ time, or publicly owned equipment, or all three, were used to produce the flier.

A simple explanatory paragraph noting that the district was not involved in the publication, and that the opinions expressed were those of Burroughs and Henderson and not the board as a whole or the school district, would have answered those questions — indeed, would have largely prevented them from being asked.

The absence of such an explanation is unfortunate because some of the content in the pamphlet should not be associated, even mistakenly, with a public school district.

Burroughs, for instance, contends that board member Kyle Knight, whose censuring by the board this spring prompted the current campaign to try to recall Burroughs and Henderson, has broken state labor and ethics laws, and violated no fewer than four amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Were this cavalcade of claims completely true, we would think Knight would be facing more serious consequences than his current censure status.

Burroughs and Henderson both denied to the Herald that the pamphlet’s purpose is to convince voters not to back the recall campaign.

Burroughs said her goal was to explain why she supported the censure of Knight.

Henderson said he was responding to questions from patrons about what his goals are for the district.

We don’t doubt the veracity of either statement.

But it’s silly for the two to argue that the flier has nothing to do with the recall.

In the second paragraph of Burroughs’ statement she notes that she is “enduring a second attack by Kyle Knight to recall me...”

Henderson writes: “Quit playing politics” and urges patrons to “consider carefully the effect your signature and vote may have...”

The “signature” in question obviously refers to the petition sheets being circulated by proponents seeking to put a recall on the ballot.

We have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from the Oregon Elections Divisions about whether Burroughs or Henderson needs to form a political committee and keep track of monetary donations and expenditures related to the flier.

But even if such filings aren’t legally required, the pair have an obligation to their constituents to explain explicitly when they are acting as individual board members — which of course is their right — and when they are representing not only themselves but the school board, and district, as well.

Weather as political theater

Now that the conventions are over we can get down to some sober, well-reasoned debate about the future of the United States, right?

Well, no.

The likelihood, of course, is that we’ll be bombarded over the next two months by the same exaggerations, half-truths and half-baked conspiracies that created a political miasma this summer rivaling the actual cloying smoke from the wildfires that ravaged the West.

Only more, as the PACs burn through their budgets buying broadcast time.

A terrible reminder

Almost 11 years separate us from that unforgettable September day when the airliners crashed into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

That’s a goodly amount of time.

Enough time, for some of us, that the immediate aftermath, and in particular America’s military action in Afghanistan, has lacked the obvious connection that it once had.

But no more.

The news that a soldier from Baker City, Army Spc. Mabry Anders, was killed in action in Afghanistan on Aug. 27 erased our collective complacency in a way reminiscent of the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

That event’s malevolent legacy lingers.

Mabry Anders was barely 10 years old when those two planes took down the World Trade Center.

A boy who on that day might never have heard of Afghanistan, grown to a man who died trying to make sure that we, the lucky ones at home, would never suffer such a fate again.

The response to Mabry’s death has been heartening. We were proud to see some 2,000 people turn out Monday morning as the casket bearing his body traveled from the Baker City Airport through the heart of town.

We won’t pretend to have known Mabry. We must let those who loved him tell us, and others, about him.

We do, though, feel justified in extending to Mabry a simple, and unfortunately posthumous, sentiment.

Thank you.

Blanca Starr’s plight

Editorial from The (Bend) Bulletin:

The debate about illegal immigration pushes many buttons so easily — financial insecurity, race, freedom. Finding the right immigration policy is not so easy.

Blanca Starr’s care should drive just about everyone to question where they stand.

Like most teenagers, she went to get her driver’s permit. It was only then Starr found out she was in this country illegally.

City right to back off

Bakerr City Herald Editorial Board

Baker City officials were acting responsibly when they tried to offer relief to a couple of private property owners who have suffered due to their proximity to the popular banks of the Powder River.

The complaints from Cathy and Tom Tressler, who live next to the river, and the Baker Elks Lodge, which owns the adjacent Wade Williams Park, are legitimate. These include reports of people parking illegally, littering, and being loud and obnoxious while hanging around the river.

Hoping for fast fire recovery

While huge swathes of the sagebrush steppe in Oregon’s southeastern corner were being blackened this summer by lightning-sparked fires, Baker County was tranquil.

Until Sunday.

A bolt ignited a blaze about 16 miles southeast of Baker City. The Sardine fire spread across about 6,100 acres, according to BLM’s most recent estimate (acreages have varied considerably).

In one sense, the landowners whose property was burned fared better than some of their counterparts did in Harney and Malheur counties.

The Sardine fire, unlike the blazes in those counties, didn’t kill any cattle or horses.

This fortunate result isn’t due purely to luck, either. Mike Widman, who with his wife, Coral, owns some of the rangeland that burned, talked about how local residents and fire crews from multiple agencies strived to protect livestock.

But in another respect, Baker County ranchers are confronted with the same challenges facing others in the beef business.

At least half a dozen local ranchers will have to find another source of feed for cattle that were supposed to graze this fall in the area scorched on Sunday.

That means an extra expense.

And hassle.

Besides private land, the fire burned sections of public land that might be off-limits to livestock for two years to allow the scars to heal.

The fire will affect wildlife, too, possibly including sage grouse, a species for which federal protection has been proposed.

We’re confident that the BLM, which manages the public land in the area, will act quickly to minimize the fire’s damage. The agency might, for example, need to spread seeds of native grasses and other plants to prevent cheatgrass and other invasive species from dominating the post-fire landscape.

Widman said he will consider doing the same thing on his property.

Ideally, the late summer and fall will bring periods of gentle rain that encourages grass to sprout, rather than downpours that turn the denuded slopes into mudslides.

Ultimately the land will recover, and continue to provide multiple, and beneficial, uses.

Time to ponder park plan

We agree with the Baker City Council’s decision Tuesday to wait until it has some specific proposals before choosing whether to return a generous gift.

But we also understand Councilors Roger Coles’ and Beverly Calder’s concerns about the potential expense to the city of keeping the residential property that Anthony Silvers, who died last year, bequeathed.

That property is on Clifford Street, just east of the Powder River between Valley and Washington avenues. There are two homes on the property.

As a condition of the gift, Silvers required the city, within five years, to use the property “for public use and benefit” of the city. Otherwise, the property reverts to Silvers’ sister, Ernestine Hill.

A reasonable request, to be sure. But complying with it might prove difficult, and expensive.

The highest use for the property is likely as a park.

But to build one the city probably would have to tear down the two houses, those not being typical features of a public park.

Then, too, a handful of residents in that neighborhood told the City Council Tuesday that they fear the addition of a park would exacerbate the problems — including alleged drug use and loud music — that emanate from the city’s year-old Central Park on the opposite bank of the river.

That’s a legitimate concern.

But we think Calder was on to something when she said Tuesday that over time Central Park is apt to attract more families. The absence of amenities — no playground equipment, for instance — makes the park a tough sell for parents with kids.

Once the city addresses that issue — and secures some off-street parking — the idea of building a bridge to the Silvers property and using it as sort of a Central Park annex might be more palatable to neighbors.

How the city would pay for all this, of course, is an open question. The city has no surplus dollars for park improvements.

But we recall that the city spent $200,000 for the property that became Central Park. At least the Silvers property was free.

And with Silvers’ deadline more than four years away, there’s ample time for city officials to figure out whether they can make good use of this gift.

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