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Five simple words told the story then & now

The U.S. Forest Service during the past half century lost much of its ability to explain what it’s doing, or what it intends to do, in simple words and pithy phrases.

Which of course hardly makes the agency unique among departments of the federal government, that legendary purveyor of documents sometimes measured in pounds rather than in pages.

I came across a yearly report from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest a while back that seems to me curiously quaint and innocent.

Even if the paper weren’t going yellow with age, and even if the year — 1962 — weren’t printed on its cover, you’d recognize after a few pages that this is the product of a vastly different era.

In that distant age, when few Americans could find Vietnam on a map, and writing “beatles” would drag down your spelling grade, the Forest Service needed just five words to explain its purpose.

“Wood.”

“Water.”

“Forage.”

“Wildlife.”

“Recreation.”

That still covers things nicely, so far as I can tell.

Yet this admirable brevity was as surely doomed as the eight-track tape and psychedelic rock.

The syntactic unraveling had progressed quite a ways even by 1990. I chose that year mainly because it’s when the Wallowa-Whitman published its most recent forest plan, which is a sort of guide for how the 2.4 million acres will be managed.

In 1990, “recreation” had bloated into “Recreation Opportunity Spectrum,” a gain of two words and 19 letters but with no obvious increase in information.

If anything, the three-word version is apt to confuse rather than enlighten a reader.

“Wood,” which was understood in 1962 to mean mainly commercial timber but also firewood, had morphed by 1990 into such clumsy, impenetrable constructions as “maximum implementable levels of timber harvest under a nondeclining flow schedule.”

Now I’ll concede that the Forest Service’s task is considerably more complicated today (and in 1990) than in 1962.

In 1962 the National Environmental Policy Act was seven years in the future. That law requires the Forest Service, and other federal agencies, to study the possible environmental effects of everything from big timber sales to replacing little bridges, and then to publish the findings. The resulting tomes can run to hernia-inducing heft.

1962 also predates the Wilderness Act (1964), the Endangered Species Act (1973), the National Forest Management Act (1976) and doubtless much other legislation that has prompted the Forest Service to become such a prodigious producer of words.

And given that federal laws are the antithesis of lucid communication, it’s hardly surprising that the predilection for larding reports with jargon has infected the Forest Service.

Still and all, the Wallowa-Whitman’s 1962 report proves that federal employees can give an accounting of what they’ve been up to for the past year and to do so employing terms and statistics that any competent reader can grasp at a glance.

This makes for interesting reading, too, particularly as a comparison with current conditions.

The greatest disparity, as you’d probably guess, is in the amount of logging.

In 1962 the Wallowa-Whitman sold 178 million board-feet of timber, and loggers cut 117.5 million board-feet. Another 246.8 million board-feet had been sold and was awaiting the chain saws.

By the standards of the past 20 years, those figures seem almost mythical in their immensity.

Since 1991, the Wallowa-Whitman’s top year for selling timber was 1992, when the total was 79 million board-feet. The second-highest was 54 million board-feet, and in most years during that period the forest sold less than 40 million board-feet.

I think it’s beyond dispute that the 1962 figures, which actually accelerated during the 1970s and 1980s, could not have been sustained until now. The Wallowa-Whitman had cut much of the mature ponderosa pines that made those big volumes possible.

Yet it seems to me that the drastic decline in logging that started in 1991 was more precipitous than can be justified solely by the federal mandates that the Wallowa-Whitman protect salmon, steelhead and other species.

It’s as if the forest, confronted by an aggressive environmental movement flush with the success of the spotted owl protection in westside forests, was afflicted with a malaise.

But it’s a single photograph in the 1962 report, not the several accompanying charts of logging statistics, that strikes me as the most striking difference, in attitude if not actual result, between then and now.

That photo shows a logger putting the back cut in a old growth ponderosa, probably 30 inches or better in girth.

They don’t cut pines like that on the Wallowa-Whitman these days, or at least not often. And the forest certainly doesn’t boast of the practice in photographs.

The other section of the 1962 that I read with particular interest has to do with roads.

During that year, timber buyers built 130 miles of roads on the Wallowa-Whitman, and the Forest Service constructed five miles.

Forest engineers also surveyed 170 miles of new roads, and designed 94 miles.

These days, as is obvious to anyone who has so much as a passing interest in the Wallowa-Whitman, the main issue is which roads ought to be closed to motor vehicles. The notion of building new ones, aside from an occasional short temporary road needed to haul logs, is at best an afterthought.

The 1962 report also rebuts the idea, which seems to me to be relatively common, that the Wallowa-Whitman’s network of roads is nearly as old as the Forest Service (founded in 1905) itself, that in the main we ply the same roads our forebears did five or six generations ago.

In fact, hundreds of miles of roads have been built during the past 50 years, a necessary part of the sustained logging during the first half of that period.

Roads, of course, as an integral part of one of those five words that constituted the Forest Service’s motto in 1962: “recreation.”

As the report from that year shows, Wallowa-Whitman users had reason to be optimistic about their ability in coming years to get around the forest in a rig.

This is what some people mean when they talk about “the good old days.”

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald. 

 

Letters to the Editor for August 23, 2013

Community should work together to fix water issue

Thank goodness that we are finally out of a very difficult situation with our water.  Fortunately, our community came together, as we usually do, to make the best of things. 

I heard no complaints, only commiseration for those who became ill. Thanks to the quick response of the people at the City, County, and State to this emergency, we avoided a worse crisis. Now, let’s all work together going forward to make sure this doesn’t happen again. 

We are blessed with wonderful water here.

Barbara Johnson

Baker City

Early Learning Hub is not what Baker needs

President Barack Obama has found a devious way to skip Congress and spend money on his obsession with early learning programs. Obama bypassed Congress using the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) to temporally Fund Universal Preschool, and birth to 5 Early Learning Hubs. Oregon HB 2013 gave communities an “option” to apply for these Hubs but left them unfunded and solely reliant on grants funded by ObamaCare. Following in the President’s footsteps the Baker 5J School District then bypassed the governing school board and submitted an application requesting a hub to be placed at the North Baker Building.

During an interview with The Daily Caller Rick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, cautioned about accepting Obamacare grants. “But if they do, they will find themselves having to raise the funds for preschool programs themselves after the grants run out,” Hess said.

One of the disturbing requirements about an Early Learning Hub coming to Baker County is the requirement of targeting “all” families in the name of ObamaCare.

 “(d) Target, at a minimum, all first birth families in the county prenatal families and families with children less than three months of age and provide services through at least the child’s third birthday” Oregon HB 2013 Section 6(3)d.

I am confident that families in the county do not want to be “targeted” by Obamacare, DHS and Baker 5J through an Early Learning Hub. Families are quite capable of raising their kids without government intervention.

As a retirement community with a low-birth population, we simply cannot afford services that are redundant to the services we already provide, and that are not in demand. We already have adequate private and public services for families that need extra assistance.

Bringing a hub to Baker County will damage our locally owned preschools and church programs by replacing them with a universal one-size-fits-all system under the shadow of the Obamacare. As a community we should encourage our local representatives to reject an Early Learning Hub from coming to Baker County by withdrawing the application to the state.  We can stop this. 

Kyle Knight

Director 

Baker 5J School District

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Letter to the Editor August 21, 2013

It’s a shame that plantings were allowed to wither

In the spring a group of individuals spent a goodly amount of time and money planting shrubs along the Leo Adler Pathway between the Kirkway bridge on up to the Hughes Bridge. In walking this route the past few months I’ve noticed that these plantings have not been taken care of. The cages that were to support the new growth have been overtaken by tumbleweeds and other weed invaders. A goodly percentage of these plantings have completely withered, turned brown and died. I have not seen evidence that these plantings have been watered or cared for in any way. It is such a shame to think of the dollars spent on plants and supplies only to be forgotten or left to their own devices.

 The only signs of healthy plantings are along the river at the park where watering is done on a regular basis. 

 Perhaps the money spent on this project could have been put to a better use  such as cleaning up our water supply.

Marcia Cook

Baker City

 

Letters to the Editor for August 19, 2013

Don Phillips has always offered to help others

Don Phillips is not a child molester! He should have gone on to the trial but felt enough time and money had been spent.

Don is a kind father and grandfather. He has always been a civic-minded businessman and family man, volunteering, donating and helping others always — not the cunning predator the “appalled” woman would have you believe.

June Bowen

Baker City

 

A tale of two cities & crypto

 

Baker City has little in common with Portland.

Except for cryptosporidium.

When it comes to that pesky waterborne parasite, we run in the same circles as Oregon’s largest city.

Well, sort of.

Both cities get their water from surface streams that flow through a forested watershed where access by people is severely restricted, but where elk, deer and other wildlife roam free.

Both cities are among the four in Oregon that do not have to filter their surface water to meet federal drinking water standards (the two other cities qualifying for this rare exemption are Bend and Reedsport).

The attitudes of officials in Portland and Baker City toward crypto, and the threat it poses to their constituents’ health, however, is rather different.

Baker City officials certainly hadn’t made crypto their top priority until hundreds of people were sickened with crypto over the past few weeks.

But the city did, a few years ago, pretty much settle on installing an ultraviolet light treatment plant, and in fact had started the preliminary work on the project.

Portland officials, meanwhile, have consistently argued that their city shouldn’t have to do anything to protect Bull Run water against crypto.

Portland even convinced the Oregon Health Authority’s Drinking Water Program, in 2012, to grant the city the first, and so far the only, variance to the federal law that requires Baker City to begin treating its water to remove the crypto threat by Oct. 1, 2016.

The 10-year deal allows Portland to avoid building a treatment plant, in exchange for doing regular testing for crypto in its water supply.

What strikes us as especially interesting, though, is that until the crypto outbreak that has caused so much trouble in Baker City this summer, our experience with crypto had been similar to Portland’s.

In 2010 and 2011, three of 24 samples of Baker City water contained a small amount of crypto — two oocysts in one sample, and one oocyst in each of two samples. No cases of infection were reported during that period.

In late December 2011 and early January 2012, three samples of Portland water also contained crypto, and at precisely the same amounts as Baker City’s samples — two oocysts in one sample, one in each of two others.

Portland, unlike Baker City, has continued to test for crypto since its positive tests, and has not found any oocysts in several hundred other samples.

We’re more than a little surprised that, so far as we can tell based on media coverage, Baker City’s crypto outbreak hasn’t attracted much attention in Portland or the other cities that buy Bull Run water.

We’re surprised because the similarities between the two cities’ water supplies, and their vulnerabilities to crypto, are so striking. If nothing else, Baker City’s experience is compelling evidence that the potential for Portland’s water to be contaminated with infectious levels of crypto probably is not so remote as Portland officials have argued.

And for sheer numbers, Portland has us beat in a big way. Close to 1 million people — about one in every four Oregonians — drink Bull Run water.  That’s a lot of potential illness.

 

 

Roads, cars safer — but what about drivers?

The world’s automakers seem bent on making it easier for people to do everything in their cars.

Except drive.

Which seems to me a curious oversight.

Not so bad as forgetting the steering wheel or leaving off the lug nuts, of course, but curious just the same.

The most significant change in the automobile interior over the past decade is the proliferation of devices designed to help drivers communicate with people who are somewhere else.

(Like as not these other people are also driving, possibly in the next lane.)

Carbuilders boast of how “connected” or “wired” their latest models are. I envision Ricardo Montalbán extolling not “rich Corinthian leather” but “rich Bluetooth capability.”

I’m hardly immune to the enticing nature of this technology. I’m enthralled by the notion of someday owning a car that’s a mobile wi-fi hotspot. The concept of hooking up to Skype and having a friend’s or relative’s face show up on a video screen in the middle of the dashboard has a Star Wars flavor to it that makes me wonder whether the era of the long-awaited flying car is impending.

Except it’s dangerous enough to have people carrying on conversations, or Googling “road rage,” while they’re rolling along at 65 mph.

We don’t want them sharing airspace with 747s.

“Hold on, tower control, I can’t land until this YouTube video is over. You won’t believe how cute these kittens are!”

Carmakers, of course, tout their latest options as “hands-free,” which enables people to update their Facebook profile without taking their hands off the wheel.

This sounds like progress.

Except a study commissioned by AAA concluded that that’s not necessarily true.

In fact, researchers found that in some cases using a hands-free device to have a conversation or send an email can distract a driver more than holding a phone and talking into it.

This level of distraction has been compared — and this is the scary part — with driving while intoxicated.

Funny, though, you don’t see automakers installing beer taps — not even ones with a Camelbak-like tube that juts out of the headrest so you can guzzle brew hands-free.

Cars aren’t always in motion, of course.

And I’m not a bit troubled by a person sitting in a parked car, texting or tweeting or whatever.

Except this technology doesn’t turn off when the engine is turned on. And you needn’t be an expert on human behavior to know that if you can do something while driving, you will.

(McDonald’s probably wouldn’t exist otherwise.)

It would be a great pity, it seems to me, if our highways, which have been getting safer for the past few decades, turned more dangerous even as our cars are better able to protect us in a crash.

In 2011, a total of 32,367 people were killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roads. That was the fewest deaths in a year since 1949.

Even more impressive than the raw numbers is the fatality rate, since the latter takes into account the vast increase in the number of cars and the miles traveled.

The most-used measure is the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

The rate in 1949 was 7.13 deaths.

In 2011 it was 1.10.

This nearly miraculous improvement is due in large part to cars being vastly safer. In 1949 life-savers such as anti-lock brakes, airbags and crumple zones were more in the realm of fantasy than assembly line fact.

Back then carbuilders designed parts to look neat, and never mind that the stylish steering wheel hub, in any crash over 20 mph, would skewer you as efficiently as one of Vlad the Impaler’s stakes.

Today the engineers, having taken auto safety about as far as physics allows (roadside oak trees being rarely equipped with air bags) are turning their prodigious abilities to matters of convenience and utility.

This isn’t necessarily a disaster, of course.

I like mp3 jacks and USB ports as much as the next driver.

But I also cling to the quaint notion that piloting a vehicle with competence and single-minded focus is not merely the driver’s most important task.

It’s his only one.

Facebook can wait.

The little kid who just chased his wayward rubber ball into the street can’t.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald. 

 

Letters to the Editor for Aug. 14, 2013


Drinking tap water not the norm in the world

First of all, most of the world never drinks water directly from the tap. This is because it proves more economical to drink bottled water rather than treat, filter and chlorinate water that is going to be used for the garden, flushing toilets, washing clothes, etc. and of which only a small percentage will be consumed. If one doesn’t have sufficient cash for bottled water, one can boil water either to set aside or make tea or other beverages.

 

City still needs answers


That there are more questions about Baker City’s crypto outbreak than answers is frustrating, to residents and city officials alike.

This is, unfortunately, the nature of the microscopic parasite.

It is difficult, and perhaps will prove impossible, to ever trace this outbreak, which has sickened several hundred people, to its source.

Yet there are other vital questions for which answers should be more readily available.

 

Jubilee can have a future


The Baker County Chamber of Commerce has decided to end its role in organizing Miners Jubilee, but we’re confident that Baker City’s annual July event will persist.

There is a cadre of dedicated volunteers, from service clubs and other groups as well as individuals, who are capable of taking over the Chamber’s tasks, such as signing up vendors for Geiser-Pollman Park, organizing the parade and coordinating the Jubilee button design contest.

We hope too that other organizations which coordinate aspects of the community festival will continue to do so.

These include Historic Baker City Inc., which handles the duck and beaver races, the bed races and other events, the Eastern Oregon Mining Association’s popular displays and contests and the Lions Club’s breakfasts.

This evolution of Miners Jubilee could also result in changes that benefit the event as a whole.

Baker City has an active art community, including the Baker Art Guild, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center and several galleries. We’d like to see more local artists and crafters displaying their works in the park.

And we’d welcome a revival of scheduling local musicians to perform in the park during Jubilee.

Miners Jubilee has some momentum, in part because it’s become the weekend when Baker High School graduates gather for class reunions.

And although public drunkenness and other problems were unusually common during this year’s event, Police Chief Wyn Lohner has been talking with officials from the bull and bronc riding events that, although not officially part of Miners Jubilee, share the weekend and have become mainstay events.

We think this year’s rash of incidents will turn out to be an anomaly.

Ultimately, Miners Jubilee is a community celebration, and as such it can’t last without the support of the community.

We believe that support exists, and that it will show itself in the 2014 Jubilee.

 

Tiny bug makes it harder to trust our water


Trust, as anyone knows whose mother ever nabbed him filching jelly beans from the candy drawer, is far more easily lost than regained.

Baker City’s water supply, I’m afraid, is that little boy with sugar  crusted around his mouth.

And all of us who rely on that water, well, we’re the mom with a scowl on her face.

This state of affairs, this suddenly rampant suspicion of our once-reliable faucets, saddens me.

It is no exaggeration to indulge in cliché and call it the end of an era.

 
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