We understand why U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., during his town hall meeting in Baker City last week, touted the $15 million he helped secure for the BLM’s sage grouse management plan.
The BLM’s goal — to avoid having the grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species — is one we share.
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does decide next year to list the sage grouse, livestock grazing on public land — a mainstay of Baker County’s economy — could be severely curtailed, with the attendant local effects.
Yet when we pondered Merkley’s words we recognized that there was more to the senator’s statement than typical political posturing. And some of it is not worthy of boasting about.
We must stand up for our rights to access public land
What defines freedom? Is it an individual’s call to support the “greater good” or is it their ability to live as a sovereign being in the world?
You are going to be told over the next few months that “we are doing this for the greater good” or “we are only following orders.” This my friends is the how bad policy starts, and even worse things begin for the people of our region.
My almost-3-year-old son, Max, scampered across the slushy yard, whining that he had lost his plastic garden trowel in the pond. This plaintive claim struck me as curious because so far as I could remember we don’t have a pond.
Certainly we didn’t dig a pond or buy a pond or indeed even desire a pond.
But we got one anyway.
And it didn’t cost us anything except a few pairs of soggy boots.
(And Max’s missing trowel, which turned up not in the pond but hidden beneath a pail.)
When it comes to assessing the danger of winter travel in the Wallowa Mountains, we defer to experts such as Dave Clemens.
Clemens, who lives in Richland, has crossed the Wallowas on skis seven times during winter.
He understands avalanches.
Clemens told us this week that when he heard on Feb. 11 that an avalanche had killed two backcountry skiers near Cornucopia, he was of course saddened.
But unlike most people, Clemens had skied the same terrain.
Clemens emphasized that no matter how much experience and knowledge a backcountry traveler has — and he has prodigious amounts of both — there is an inherent risk in skiing, or snowmobiling, through the Wallowas.
Yet Clemens also noted that knowledge and experience can, to the extent possible, reduce that risk.
Fortunately, there are resources available to help travelers, even those who lack Clemens’ experience, increase their knowledge.
The Wallowa Avalanche Center in Joseph is the most important such source. This nonprofit group doesn’t make avalanche forecasts, but it does issue a weekly bulletin about local conditions, and it offers annual avalanche training.
We encourage all backcountry visitors to avail themselves of these services. Knowledge can not only save your life, but it help avoid the need for rescuers and others risking their own lives on your behalf.
In an era when frugality is reality for many people and businesses, the federal government stubbornly goes against the grain.
For the feds it seems that the concepts of scrimping and making do with what you have rarely impede with governmental bricks-and-mortar ambition.
Never mind budget deficits and sluggish economic recovery — when some ostensible need arises, it seems there’s always half a million tax dollars available to erect another building.
As a current, and local, example, consider the situation of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.
Employees from the two federal agencies had shared office space for several years in a complex of modular buildings on 11th Street, just east of the Forest Service’s vehicle compound.
The modulars were never intended to be permanent, and in early December the Forest Service employees who worked there moved across town to the David J. Wheeler Federal Building. That structure already houses the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest headquarters.
The modulars are slated to be removed in September. BLM workers will move across H Street to the former New Tribes Mission complex — itself a former federal property that housed Air Force workers more than half a century ago.
The Forest Service, meanwhile, plans to build a new office, where the modulars stand now, at an estimated cost of $500,000.
The building will have office space for Forest Service fire officials and seasonal employees, as well as rooms for public meetings.
Although the Forest Service issued a few press releases last year announcing the planned move to the Wheeler Building, none mentioned replacing the modulars with a new office.
Moreover, the agency’s workforce in Baker City has been shrinking, not growing, over the past two decades.
We don’t think it’s a stretch to assume we weren’t alone in expressing surprise, and disappointment, when we learned that more than 3 in 10 Baker High School students missed at least 10 percent of the school days — at least 15 days — during the 2012-13 school year.
A recent study published by The Oregonian no doubt caused similar consternation across the state.
After poring over school attendance reports, the newspaper found that 24 percent of Oregon high school students missed at least 10 percent of the total school days that year.
That BHS students are absent more often than most of their counterparts takes a bit of the luster off another recent report that showed the high school’s graduation rate was 80 percent last year — 13 percentage points higher than the Oregon average.
BLM’s sage grouse proposal devoid of common sense
Why is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposing a plan for protecting sage grouse habitat in Oregon that directly harms ranchers, the communities and sage-grouse ecosystems they support? It would be a plan that terminates grazing on 118,000 acres of public grazing land and imposes unnecessary regulations on approximately 600,000 acres of land that BLM has labeled “areas of critical environmental concern.” Moreover, this plan doesn’t take predator controls into consideration. Grouse predators are currently estimated at many times their historic level. Yet BLM has no authority over predator controls, therefore requiring ranchers to make major management changes while a major threat to the species goes unattended. All of this “planning” seems devoid of common sense.
In addition, successful cattle ranching operations support rural school and communities through increased tax revenue and employment opportunities. Yet according to BLM, implementing their preferred plan could result in a loss of jobs in five Oregon counties. Here in Baker County, a community supported by a strong ranching industry, our schools and businesses cannot afford losing such support.
As a fourth-generation rancher in Baker City, I have a vested interest in protecting the land that I and several animals, including sage grouse, live and work on. Much of my efforts directly benefit sage grouse by preserving, protecting and managing their habitat. In fact, multiple studies have shown that sage grouse are attracted to allotments grazed by cattle. BLM’s proposed plan to improve sage-grouse habitat by eliminating and restricting grazing is counter-intuitive and will fail.
There’s still time to be heard by submitting comments regarding this plan to BLM – Greater Sage-Grouse DEIS, 1220 SW Third Ave., Portland, OR 97204, or by email to
Comments and suggestions will be accepted through Feb. 20. Please support our ranchers, community and sage grouse with sensible alternatives to this plan.
President, Baker County Livestock Association
Conservative ideas have proven their worth
Progressives like to brag that they are the party of ideas, but some excellent conservative ideas do exist.
In 1990, New York City was just one more crime-ridden big city like Chicago and Detroit where it wasn’t safe to go out at night by yourself. Desperate, New Yorkers elected a Republican as their mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Drawing on conservative crime-fighting theories, the new mayor declared that the city police would no longer ignore petty crime, and the police began data-crunching, deploying officers to where they would be put to good use. Crime rates soon began plummeting, and continued to do so throughout the eight years of Giuliani’s administration. His successor, Republican William Bloomberg, added stop-and-frisk, and crime and crime rates continued to decline for the next 12 years.
In 1990, New York City had 2,262 murders; in 2012, there were 414, an 83 percent drop. During the same period, rape was down 55 percent, robbery was down 79 percent and burglary was down 83 percent. Progressive critics of these new police procedures claimed racism; indeed, they angrily screamed “racism” right in Mayor Giuliani’s face. Those critics ignored the fact that the great majority of crime victims were minorities. In 2012 alone, 1,848 people, mostly minorities, are alive who would have been murder victims had the 1990 murder rate continued unchanged! Meanwhile, Chicago and Detroit are still unsafe.
Welfare reform was passed by a Republican Congress in 1996, and signed into law by President Clinton. Welfare benefits were henceforth time-limited, and work requirements were implemented. Progressive critics of the new law claimed that millions of people would become homeless, huddling on heating grates to keep warm. Instead, millions of people got jobs and off welfare, and have the satisfaction of providing for their own needs instead of being on the government dole.
Obamacare is being implemented with snafus, increased health insurance costs and broken promises. Medicare will be bankrupt in a decade. More and more cities are going bankrupt. Progressive politicians, however, claim nothing is basically wrong here, and refuse to make any changes in their pet programs. How about trying some more conservative ideas?
Remember when Baker County was described as “overwhelmingly Democratic” and “predominantly a Democratic county?”
Such a notion might sound farfetched, if not outright farcical, today, when the county is a Republican mainstay.
It turns out, though, that you needn’t go back so far as the Whig era to reach a period when Democrats boasted an electoral advantage among county voters at least as solid as what GOP candidates have now.
In November 1972, the day after President Richard M. Nixon was re-elected, this newspaper wrote that although Nixon, a Republican, received 55 percent of Baker County’s votes to Democrat George McGovern’s 33 percent, this was, and indeed it remained, “predominantly a Democratic county” based on party affiliations.
Remembering great BHS athletes
The recent passing of Donn Smithpeter brought to mind many recollections of our high school days. He was a longtime friend and schoolmate. Only a few weeks before he died I asked his sister, Deni, to inquire as to our age when Donn gave me his Baker Democrat Herald paper route. Donn said he could not recall, but it was when we were either 10 or 11, as he went to work at the family grocery store on Main Street during the last years of World War II. Delivering papers was much easier than competing with the likes of Jim Pifher or Bobb McKittrick hawking papers at businesses on Main Street.
Baker High was not noted for having highly competitive track teams in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but 1949 turned out to be an exception. There were five members of the boys track team that qualified to go to the Oregon state meet in Corvallis. As Carlyle Staab recalled, they traveled in a car with the track coach. Budgets were tight. Carlyle was the team sprinter and hurdler. Donn was the 440 runner. Don Thompson was the pole vaulter and high jumper. Gerald Church threw the javelin. Harold Parrot ran distance races. Of the five, Carlyle was on the baseball team as pitcher and shortstop, Gerry was also pitcher and fielder, Don was center on the basketball team. Not much time to practice track.
At the state meet Baker High was represented by coach Al Grove (also the football coach, manager John Heriza and the six participants. At the end of the state tournament Baker High was third in team points. Donn with his smooth stride was either third or fourth in the 440-yard dash. Gerald won the javelin. Don won both the high jump and the pole vault. Carlyle placed fifth in the 100-yard dash, third in the 220-yard dash, third in the low hurdles. Harold placed either third or fourth in the mile; and the 880-yard relay team was fifth. The fourth member of the relay team is still a mystery.
Gerry went on to be Oregon State’s (then College, now University) javeline thrower with a throw at the NCAA championships that put him in first place until the final day. Carlyle became a starting guard on the OSC freshman basketball team and shortstop on the baseball team before signing a baseball contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers his sophomore year. Don was a member of the OSC track team during his years there and went on to be an aviator. Donn became a civil engineer from OSC and had a long career in the nuclear power business. John Heriza taught school for his career. Al Grove moved back to the Willamette Valley to coach. Harold is probably still running somewhere, ala Forrest Gump. The folow up on the mystery athlete is still unresolved.
Baker High School Class of 1952
Editor’s note: The author is the uncle of Herald publisher Kari Borgen’s husband, Kerry.
Sage grouse a pawn used to close public land
Those of you who use public lands in Eastern Oregon are faced with another dilemma. The Greater Sage Grouse could potentially close large tracts of BLM land. Once again it appears that those of us who live here are at the mercy of vocal, well-funded special interest groups that not only don’t even live and work in the area, but whose goals are the elimination of all public land grazing practices, and probably have other hidden agendas that will further their elitist plans. The sage grouse appears to be only a pawn in the much larger scheme of keeping the legitimate ranchers, miners, recreational users, hunters, fisherman and other public land users off public lands.
As usual, the BLM caters to the interest groups, ignores concerns of legitimate public land users, sets short comment periods and makes it difficult for those living in the area to comment or respond, but caters to the whims of the deep-pocket elitist groups.
I was also thinking of a future plan with no grazing or access on public lands, tall grass and brush, and a wildfire. That’s not happened before, has it! What then will be the plight of the “endangered sage grouse?” Pre-cooked?
Remember, comment period deadline is Feb. 20. If you want standing in any further BLM sage grouse actions, you must submit a written or email comment. Comments can be mailed to BLM-Greater Sage Grouse EIS, attn: Joan Suther, RE: BLM Resource Management Plan Amendment for Oregon, 1220 S.W. Third Ave., Portland, OR 97204; or email to:
Oregon Rep. Cliff Bentz isn’t promising to have the final word on the efficacy of studded snow tires.
But the Ontario Republican, whose legislative district includes Baker County, certainly is justified in saying that a pending study which he helped to inspire “will provide valuable information for all of us.”
Bentz, who has opposed proposed bans on studded tires in Oregon — a position we share — announced this week that the Oregon Department of Transportation will compile several national and international studies that compare the effectiveness of studded and studless snow tires on a variety of road conditions.