There’s hope for hopper money

Written by JAMES SINKS and ED MERRIMAN, Wescom News Service September 22, 2008 12:00 am

SALEM — Legislative leaders announced Friday that they will propose emergency funding to help cope with the worst grasshopper infestation in Eastern Oregon since 1978.

If approved by the Legislative Emergency Board, which meets Thursday and Friday in Salem, the $132,000 will hire a state entomologist dedicated to Eastern Oregon and help offset money already spent by farmers on pesticides.

House Speaker Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, said the state can help prevent a more serious outbreak in 2009 by spending the funds now.

“While we know these are difficult economic times, and we must be cautious in our spending, this $132,000 could very well save farmers, ranchers and the state of Oregon millions of dollars,” he said in a release. “It’s a wise and targeted investment we need to make.”

Merkley is the co-chairman of the E-Board, which controls the state’s finances between sessions, along with Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture says at least 700,000 acres are threatened in Baker County alone. Other affected counties include Union, Malheur, Wallowa, Lake, Grant, Klamath and Jefferson.

The plight of east-side counties was raised earlier this week in an incendiary news release by Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, who said leaders were ignoring the damage caused by the voracious insects. His district includes Baker County.

“I’m obviously pleased,” Ferrioli said Friday. “I thank the senate president for his work, but the recommendation is one thing and the vote is another, so we will wait to see if the votes are there when the E-Board meets.”

Congressman Greg Walden, R-Hood River,  who represents Eastern Oregon, also weighed in on the funding request by warning legislative leaders that failure to support the entomologist and the grasshopper cost-share spraying program could doom a partnership with the federal government that provides important protection for Oregon farms and forests from crippling invasive species infestations.

In a letter sent last week to Merkley and Courtney, Walden said the consequences of failing to meet those funding needs could have long-lasting and likely irreversible impacts on nearly every sector of eastern, central and southern Oregon’s agriculture and forest economies as well as the environment.

 He urged E-Board members to reconsider budget cuts imposed earlier at the request of the Oregon Department of Administrative Services and Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and approve the $132,000 emergency funding request from the ODA.

“Experts predict next year will be one of the worst invasive grasshopper seasons in parts of eastern Oregon, so the need to fund the eastern Oregon entomologist position is particularly pressing,” Walden wrote in the letter. “The position is also critical to many other invasive species surveillance and control projects throughout Oregon’s agriculture- and forest-dependent counties.

“Whether it is work on the gypsy moth in central Oregon, the onion maggot in Ontario, the apple maggot in Milton-Freewater, the Asian long horn beetle and emerald ash borer in nearly all of the forested areas throughout eastern, central and southern Oregon, or the Japanese beetle around the Portland International Airport, the Eastern Oregon entomologist position has been instrumental in conducting invasive species surveillance and control projects throughout the region,” Walden said.