The (La Grande) Observer:
It’s a funny thing about environmental groups. The more they claim to
do for forest health, the unhealthier the forests become. Lawsuits and
appeals of timber projects and sales go on and on, while trees die and
go unharvested, while combustibles continue to pile up on the forest
Legal wrestling matches drag on (and on), and conflagrations break out
every year. The result? Blighted land, squandered taxpayer dollars and
a wasted resource.
The controversy touched a new height in absurdity recently, when a
federal district court judge effectively slapped down a U.S. Forest
Service policy designed to promote work that reduces the risk of
wildfires. Two local sales already evaluated for positive and negative
environmental impacts were stopped dead in their tracks.
The Forest Service policy, adopted in 2003, exempts from appeal certain
logging projects on 1,000 acres or fewer, and also prescribed burning
on 4,500 or fewer acres. The policy is designed to allow some
constructive, productive work to proceed in a timely manner.
If the Senate’s action this week foreshadows the future of public land
legislation under Democratic control, that future could be interesting
And potentially disappointing for advocates — and we included ourselves among them — of an equitable federal policy.
Senators had hardly arrived at the Capitol when Majority Leader Harry
Reid, D-Nev., introduced the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009
(S.22). The act would, among many other things, designate as wilderness
five areas in Oregon, totaling about 203,000 acres of public land (none
of those areas is in Northeastern Oregon).
We don’t oppose creating any of those wilderness areas.
The government’s getting ready to tax cow flatulence and burps.
Sure it sounds ludicrous.
But the government’s involved, a fact which makes plausible even the most hare-brained of schemes.
We certainly won’t try to convince anyone that the government’s incapable of imposing nonsensical and economically ruinous laws.
But neither do we want Baker County ranchers to worry unduly that
they’ll lose their operation if they can’t teach their herds some
Here’s what the government has actually done:
Last July the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced what it
calls an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” regarding “potential
regulatory approaches” to dealing with greenhouse gases.
The great thing about snow is that it melts.
Glaciers are rather more persistent, of course, but there aren’t any of those in Baker County.
Yet the temporary nature of snow is small consolation to anyone whose
car is marooned behind a chest-high wall of congealed slush.
Or to someone who lives along a street where the blacktop hasn’t been visible for a couple of weeks.
Both situations have happened this winter in Baker City.
Both have happened in plenty of winters past and, barring a radical shift in climate, both will continue to happen.
On balance, though, the snow that accumulates on our streets is more an
annoyance than the near-disaster that some critics of the city’s
snow-control strategy seem to believe it is.
In general the city deals with snow and ice in an appropriate and competent way.
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has been nibbling for close to two
decades now at the problem of overcrowded timber stands that are
abnormally susceptible to wildfires.
But now Wallowa-Whitman officials want to take a big bite.
They’re proposing a series of five timber sales on the southern flanks
of the Wallowa Mountains that would constitute the largest logging job
on the forest since the early 1990s.
The Snow Basin project, which is near Eagle Creek north of Richland,
could start in 2010 and result in as much as 70 million board-feet of
timber being sold over five years.
The Wallowa-Whitman hasn’t sold more than 30 million board-feet, with
all timber sales combined, in any single fiscal year since 2001.
For a guy who frets frequently, and publicly, about climate change,
pollution and America’s thirst for petroleum, Oregon Gov. Ted
Kulongoski has a funny way of showing his concern.
Kulongoski’s latest idea might actually discourage Oregonians from driving fuel-efficient cars.
If you’re partial to full-size pickup trucks and similarly hefty rigs, however, you’ll probably second the governor’s motion.
Kulongoski announced this week that he’ll lobby the Legislature, which
convenes next month, to jumpstart his plan to replace Oregon’s gas tax
of 24 cents per gallon with a mileage tax.
The governor hasn’t suggested an amount. A 10-month experiment last
year that involved 300 drivers in the Portland area used a tax of 1.2
cents per mile driven.
If your car gets more than 20 mpg, a mileage tax at that level probably would cost you more than the gas tax does now.
So much for that Prius purchase penciling out.
To be fair to the governor, we’re not suggesting that he’s a hypocrite.
We don’t care whether the Baker City Council calls its get-togethers “meetings” or “work sessions.”
We care a great deal, though, about whether councilors get answers to
all their questions before they vote on matters such as how they’ll
spend our money.
Or how much of our money the Council thinks the city needs.
And so we endorse City Manager Steve Brocato’s proposal to change one
of the Council’s two monthly gatherings from a “meeting” to a “work
The idea, which the Council probably will discuss during its annual
goal-setting session in early 2009, is that councilors would benefit
if, once a month, they scheduled a work session to talk over topics but
agreed beforehand that they wouldn’t actually cast any votes during the
Work sessions would be public meetings, of course, so long as at least four of the seven councilors attended.
During work sessions councilors could not only debate issues, but also
query Brocato and other city officials about the purposes and potential
effects of items on the Council’s agenda.
For most people an old, obsolete TV or computer monitor is trash, albeit heavy, space-occupying trash.
Trouble is, tossing such stuff into a landfill can cause problems more serious than clogging your closet capacity.
Polluting groundwater with poisonous heavy metals, for instance.
Televisions, computer and computer monitors contain toxins such as mercury and lead.
Americans threw away about 232 million of these devices in 2007, but
just 18 percent were recycled rather than landfilled, according to the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The agency estimates that 235 million more are taking up the aforementioned closet space.
The Baker School District needs to save money.
The Oregon School Employees Association wants to protect its members
who work for the district as cooks, bus drivers and in other
Both goals are reasonable.
What’s also reasonable is to expect that district and union officials will work together to try to achieve both objectives.
Their relationship is hardly amicable now, though, and we hope they try to mend it before it erodes any further.
The animosity dates to the summer, when Superintendent Don Ulrey, in an effort to curb costs, cut one cook position.
Although the affected employee was transferred to a different job in
the district, the decision prompted OSEA to file an unfair labor
practice complaint against the district. Union official Mary Kay Brant
contends Ulrey should have told the union before transferring the OSEA
Perhaps, but considering the district moved, rather than fired, the employee, the complaint seems unnecessary.
We hope some of those dollars land in Baker County.
Equally important, we hope those dollars not only boost the local
economy, but also make the county a better place to live and to visit.
To achieve those goals, local officials will need to compile a list of projects that lack only the money to get them going.
Officials will have to hurry, though.