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Action needed on drought


Oregon and federal officials need to respond quickly to the Baker County Board of Commissioners’ June 5 declaration of a drought emergency.

The need for state and federal aid, which the county’s declaration is intended to summon, becomes more likely with the passage of each dry day.

On Wednesday evening a range fire near Huntington forced the temporary closure of the westbound lanes of Interstate 84.

The blaze indicates how dry the county’s rangelands already are, a week before the solstice.

Those rangelands are a vital source of summer forage for the county’s beef cattle herd — a $53 million business in 2012 — but even places that don’t burn might be useless for grazing.

The county’s only commercial fruit-grower, Eagle Valley Orchard near Richland, has already suffered a major loss due to a hard freeze in April.

And a looming shortage of irrigation water could cause big problems for farmers and ranchers throughout the county.

It could well be, of course, that Baker County will get by without any assistance — we’ve certainly done so before during difficult circumstances.

But the commissioners were wise to take action before the situation turns into a crisis.

Now their counterparts at the state and federal levels need to do the same.

 

Widening the DNA dragnet


If the federal government thinks groups that toss around words such as “liberty” deserve extra scrutiny as to their tax-exempt status, just imagine what that gargantuan enterprise might do with a detailed map of you, at the sub-cellular level.

Recently, with nearly daily revelations about the feds’ efforts to find out what you’re saying, and to prevent you from finding out what they’re up to, even a staunch defender of the benevolence of an omnipotent government must wonder whether his trust has been misplaced.

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which validates the practice of having police take DNA samples from people who have been arrested, but not convicted, only thickens the Orwellian clouds of concern about our lack of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia, the renowned conservative who was joined in his dissent by the High Court’s most liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, neatly summarized the possible, and troubling, ramifications:

“Make no mistake about it: Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” Scalia wrote in his dissent.

But happily, this prospect is not a certainty in Oregon.

Read more...
 

That's not Grant County


The portrait of Grant County sketched in a story in The Oregonian last week was far from a flattering portrayal of our neighbor to the southwest.

We’re skeptical, though, that that portrait, as outlined in the story about the possible release from prison of convicted murderer Sidney Dean Porter, is anything close to accurate, for Grant County or the many other places in Eastern Oregon with similar demographics.

On April 7, 1992, Porter used a piece of firewood to beat to death John Day Police officer Frank Ward.

Read more...
 

Legislating good sense


We’ll start with the obvious: Smoking inside a car when kids are there is dumb.

Among confined spaces, where secondhand smoke poses a health risk, few are more confined than a car.

Oregon legislators, as the makers of law are wont to do, believe this is an issue which requires government intervention.

We disagree.

Read more...
 

Scrutiny of city’s street plan


The proposed update to Baker City’s Transportation System Plan has some residents concerned, and we understand why.

Designed as a guide for how the city’s system of streets, sidewalks and paths develops over the next 20 years or so, the plan, not surprisingly, covers quite a lot of ground.

And although none of the myriad projects in the plan is set in stone (or, rather, in asphalt or concrete), any of them could become reality.

This could have major effects not only on residents’ property, but also on their pocketbooks.

Read more...
 

A milestone on wolves?


We probably won’t know for some years whether the agreement announced last week resolving a lawsuit about killing wolves in Oregon is a milestone or merely a footnote.

We hope for the former.

There are reasons to be optimistic.

The deal is a rare example of collaboration between pro-wolf groups, which sued the state in 2011 to prevent officials from killing wolves that had attacked livestock, and cattle ranchers who worry that a burgeoning wolf population will decimate their herds.

Read more...
 

GM wheat find threatens economy


The discovery of genetically modified wheat in an Eastern Oregon field this spring poses a major threat, not to our health but to our economy.

In terms of quantity, the discovery was minor.

A wheat farmer found the plants in a field that is fallow this year, meaning it was not seeded to produce a crop to harvest.

Read more...
 

TMP letters rich in detail


Six years have passed since Wallowa-Whitman National Forest officials announced they were planning to ban motor vehicles on some forest roads.

And for almost the whole of that time, officials have urged forest users who have an interest in the Travel Management Plan (TMP) to be as specific as possible in commenting on the proposal.

Some critics of the TMP have been reluctant to do so, citing the reasonable concern that to list the roads they want to remain open is tantamount to sacrificing all the other roads when, in truth, they don’t want motor vehicles prohibited on any road where such vehicles can go now.

In 2007, more than 6,000 people signed a petition opposed to any road closures.

No doubt that remains a popular idea among local residents.

But it’s also clear, thanks to the Wallowa-Whitman’s recent release of a detailed study of written comments about the TMP that the forest received last spring, that many people who oppose road closures in general also heeded the advice to be specific in advocating for their position.

People who support restrictions on motor vehicles, by contrast, were, with relatively few exceptions, content to sign one of two form letters, both of which read rather like a press release from an environmental group.

Those two letters accounted for 76 percent of the 3,340 comments the Wallowa-Whitman received between March 16, 2012, when a version of the TMP was released to the public, and June 14, 2012.

That TMP, which would have banned motor vehicles from more than 3,000 miles of roads — roughly half the mileage open now — was withdrawn a month after it was unveiled.

Letters from opponents of the TMP, though small in numbers compared with proponents’ form letters, were rich both in passion for the topic and in detailed knowledge about the role roads play in the public’s use of the Wallowa-Whitman.

TMP opponents wrote about gathering firewood, picking huckleberries, exploring on ATVs, hunting with elderly companions who can no longer hike long distances over rough terrain but still like to go after a buck.

To put it simply, these letters constitute perhaps the most vivid description we’re likely to ever read about how this 2-million-acre swath of public property is actually used by the people who go there most often.

Of course the Wallowa-Whitman is not their exclusive domain. Public land belongs to every American. We’re not suggesting that a form letter advocating for road closures, signed by someone who’s never visited the Wallowa-Whitman, should be ignored.

Still and all, we hope forest officials, as they work on a new version of the TMP over the next few years, understand that a proposal which might seem like a reasonable compromise, based on road mileages and percentages laid out in a chart, doesn’t necessarily address how people are actually using the forest.

Forest officials have said repeatedly over the years that they want people to submit specific comments about the TMP. The people who worry about the effects of restrictions on motor vehicle access have done precisely that. The next TMP won’t fully satisfy all of those people, but it should at least show that forest officials were as diligent in reading the comments as forest users were in writing them.

 

A useful discussion

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

A sense of impending financial crisis pervaded Baker City Hall for a few evenings this week but fortunately the specter of laying off police officers and firefighters was short-lived.

The debate among the city’s budget board was, in the main, a healthy one.

It served to remind city officials — though we hope no such reminder was truly necessary — that the economic outlook, though improving, is far from rosy.

And that uncertainty needs to be reflected in the labor contracts city administrators are negotiating with the three unions that represent most city employees.

Each of those unions has a five-year contract that expires June 30.

That’s an unusually long period but we supported the deals when they were approved in 2008 because the duration allowed the city to accurately forecast its personnel costs — which make up about 70 percent of spending — for five years.

Those contracts seem especially generous today in part because they took effect just months before the economy started its historic plunge.

Police received a 3-percent raise for each of the five years.

Firefighters got 4 percent the first year and 3 percent each of the remaining four years.

Members of the third union, which represents mainly public works employees, received between 2 percent and 4 percent for each of the five years (the contract stipulated annual raises based on the federal Consumer Price Index, which ranged from -0.4 percent to 3.8 percent during the contract period, but the amount could not be less than 2 percent nor more than 4 percent).

Many of the local residents whose property taxes go to City Hall didn’t get any raises during that period. Some lost their jobs.

We commend city officials for being responsible in budgeting; the city is fortunate, and somewhat unusual these days, in that it doesn’t need to lay off employees to balance its budget.

But the budget board members who this week critiqued the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year were right to point out that the city can’t maintain its current enviable financial position and still approve lavish, long-term contracts.

It’s far better — and wiser — to acknowledge this now. Financial challenges, unlike wine, almost never improve when they’re stored away and forgotten for a while.

 

Get to the bottom of IRS mess


Trust, once broken, is hard to regain.

Certainly that old chestnut applies to the recent revelation that some IRS officials were about as impartial as a political attack ad as they went about their duties.

That the IRS would target conservative groups for especially keen scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status is troubling enough.

But the truly frightening aspect of this scandal is that it raises the specter that the agency might have engaged in similar political profiling, only in ways potentially more harmful and punitive to Americans.

It’s entirely conceivable that IRS agents also used political affiliations to decide which individual taxpayers or businesses to audit.

Or, as appears to have been the case with the clandestine profiling of groups seeking tax-exempt status, that the agency relied on such information to decide who wouldn’t receive extra attention from the federal tax-collecting apparatus.

If there is anything positive to be said about the current situation, it’s that the IRS’ transgressions were so blatant that we doubt Congress will cut any corners as it investigates.

We hope not, anyway.

No agency deserves more than the IRS to have its actions subjected to a merciless, but fair, examination.

 
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