Protecting the beautiful rivers, wild lands and legendary botanical diversity of Oregon's Kalmiopsis Country

Senator Wyden’s Grants Pass town hall meeting

Local coverage of Senator Wyden’s Grants Pass town hall failed to capture important issues raised by the estimated 150 people who attended.  In recognition of the many who traveled from the Applegate and Illinois Valley’s to be heard, we want to share some of the important issues they raised.

With little ceremony, the Senator dove right into taking questions.  While many in the Sunday, Feb. 9th  overflow crowd were standing, few left the 90 minute meeting till the end. Senator Wyden appeared to be enjoying the give and take—commenting that it was particularly good town hall.

One speaker pointed out that property taxes in Josephine County were the lowest in the state. He said this was one of the biggest problems facing the County.  Wyden’s  bill, intending to provide some relief to O&C counties, just had a hearing before the Senator Energy and Natural Resources Committee. View the archived video of the hearing for (S. 1784) the O&C Land Grant Act of 2013 and read the written testimony of the witnesses here. The Oregonian writes that the Senator vows to pass the legislation this year.  Read the article about the hearing.

The Williams Valley looking across BLM O&C lands from Grayback Mountain.
The Williams Valley looking across BLM O&C lands from Grayback Mountain. Forty Rogue, Applegate and Williams Valley farmers have written to the Senator about his O&C Land Grant Act of 2013.

Here are a few issues that the Grants Pass Courier was silent on. The first question asked was what can be done about the export of raw logs from private forest land? The Senator didn’t think Congress wanted to get into telling private land owners what to do.

Log exports, however, affects timber supplies to mills and therefore jobs. High unemployment in rural communities is being used to justify increasing the cut on federal forests in Oregon in both the House and Senate.  In a June 4, 2012 Eugene Register-Guard guest opinion Roy Keene writes that “one-third of Oregon’s annual timber harvest is currently exported as raw logs from private lands.” Keene concludes:

Reducing raw log exports, establishing fair taxes and fostering value-added wood products is where our politicians should focus to democratically increase local timber supplies, revenue and jobs.

Raw logs leaving Portland for China.
Pictured: Raw logs leaving Portland for China. In 2011, Roy Keene wrote in the Oregonian that “at least 500 timber jobs leave the Northwest weekly as boatload after boatload of raw laws are exported to Asian mills.

Don Tipping of Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, Oregon spoke on behalf of 40 Southern Oregon farms, many of them organic. The farmer’s have written a letter to the Senator supporting public lands protection. Tipping said  that “Farms in the Rogue and Applegate River Valleys are important to the local economy and a key reason why people find southern Oregon an attractive region to live and visit.” He asked the Senator to maintain protections for southern Oregon’s forests and waterways, especially streamside and older forests that surround farms and communities.

Tipping also discussed water issues he and other area farms are facing as a result of the drought. In short, he talked about the importance of the forests in maintaining a sustainable flow of clean water. Another member of the audience, with similar concerns, said about 70 percent of the Applegate Valley’s watershed is O&C land.

The East Fork Illinois River at Cave Junction on Dec. 2, 2013. The East Fork Illinois River provides the water for the city and the community of Kerby
The East Fork Illinois River at Cave Junction on Dec. 2, 2013. The river is the water source for Cave Junction and Kerby. The communities are asking for drinking water source protection in Senator Wyden’s O&C bill.

Gordon Lyford, a member of the Illinois Valley Watershed Council and certified water right examiner, urged the Senator to designate more Drinking Water Special Management Units in his legislation. He said the units should be managed as Conservation Emphasis Areas and suggested they be consistent with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Source Water Assessment maps for public water systems using surface water.

O&Trust Lands would be managed like private industrial forest land. Pictured private land logging in Illinois River Basin.
Google Earth image of private industrial forest land in the East Fork Illinois River Watershed. The East Fork is the domestic water source for the City of Cave Junction and community of Kerby.

Lyford explained when you slick the trees and vegetation off slopes, the precipitation runs off quickly instead of seeping in and recharging the groundwater system. The rapid runoff washes soil and debris into streams. In the East Fork Illinois Watershed, this puts a strain on Cave Junction’s state of the art water system and increases the cost of water treatment.

The ODEQ’s Source Water Assessment Summary for the City of Cave Junction (PWS #4100971) places in the “higher” potential risk category the:

Cutting and yarding of trees may contribute to increased erosion, resulting in turbidity and chemical changes in drinking water supply. Over-application or improper handling of pesticides or fertilizers may impact drinking water source.

John Gardiner, a member of the Cave Junction City Council and Illinois Valley Watershed Council asked Senator Wyden to specifically establish the Cave Junction Drinking Water Special Management Unit consistent with members of the City Council and the Kerby Water District’s letters to the Senator.  McKenzie, Hillsboro, Clackamas and Springfield were given special drinking water protections in the Senator’s O&C Land Grant Act of 2013. 

Gardiner also said he supports the Senator’s proposed Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area.

Rough and Ready Creek is a tributary of the West Fork Illinois River known for its exceptional water quality.  This photo was taken within a hour of the East Fork Illinois photo below.
Rough and Ready Creek in Senator Wyden’s proposed Illinois Valley Salmon and Botanical Area is known for its exceptional water quality. This photo was taken within a hour of the East Fork Illinois photo above.

Christine Gardiner raised concerns about what she called “chemical trespass”—the spraying of herbicides on private industrial forest land and its affects on residents in the area, including cancer clusters. She explained how difficult it is for neighbors to find out when nearby private forest lands were to be sprayed and the chemical content of the herbicides used. Christine asked the Senator for his help and said “as a community we have a constitutional right not to be poisoned.” This got a loud round of applause.

Aerial application of chemicals is allowed on private forest land under the Oregon Forest Practices Act.
The aerial application of herbicides on private forest land is permitted under the Oregon Forest Practices Act but there’s no requirement to disclose the chemicals in the spray to the public.

The Eugene Register-Guard in a January 12, 2014 editorial wrote about similar concerns:

The information vacuum is illustrated by a case in Gold Beach, where two dozen residents complained of headaches, blurred vision, joint pain and other problems after an aerial application of herbicides on nearby forest land in October. Residents have petitioned the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies for an investigation.

Read the full Register-Guard editorialWyden said application of herbicides on private land is a state issue but agreed it was important. He told Gardiner “If you get together the relevant state officials, I will make sure our office is at all those meetings.”

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