Apr 27, 2012
PNP comment: This is really good news! See if we make enough noise we can be heard, respected and responded to in a positive way. — Editor Liz Bowen
Just found out the Department of Labor is backing off its ill-advised “Youth Ag Rule.” This is great news! Having grown up on a cherry orchard in The Dalles, I know that training the next generation of farmers and ranchers is a must if we want a stable food supply. The rule, which received heavy criticism from the farm and ranch community, would have discouraged young people from staying on the farm and made it impossible for programs like FFA and 4-H to continue giving kids important hands-on experience in agriculture.
In announcing the reversal, the Department of Labor said they will work with rural stakeholders in the future. They also said they withdrew the rule in response to thousands of comments expressing concern. Working together, we did it! Thanks to all who were vocal on this issue.
Apr 19, 2012
Schwalbach ‘stops clock’ on TMP
Written by Jayson Jacoby April 18, 2012 08:40 am
By JAYSON JACOBY
The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s plan to ban motor vehicles from 3,600 miles of roads later this spring has hit a speed bump of sorts.
And this impediment was thrown up by the very forest official who unveiled the plan March 15.
Wallowa-Whitman Supervisor Monica Schwalbach announced Tuesday, by way of a letter, that she was withdrawing her decision on the widely unpopular Travel Management Plan (TMP).
The vehicle ban was scheduled to take effect in June, when the forest makes available to the public free maps showing which roads and trails are open to motor vehicles.
“The forest needs to develop a travel management plan for public motorized recreation, but I want to be sure the various options for moving forward are considered in a constructive manner,” Schwalbach wrote. “I believe that by taking the time now to allow for further dialogue and consideration regarding the concerns that have been raised, we will develop a better outcome in the long run.”
Schwalbach did not say when she intends to announce a revised decision.
Matt Burks, a spokesman for the Wallowa-Whitman, said he doesn’t expect that any road closures will take effect this year.
Most forest roads are blocked by snow during the winter, and the TMP doesn’t apply to snowmobiles, so the plan’s effect is mainly limited to late spring through the fall.
Mike Ragsdale of Baker City, who helped organize a protest march against the TMP Saturday, said this morning that he’s “ecstatic” about Schwalbach’s decision to delay the plan.
“The fight isn’t over, it’s just been postponed,” Ragsdale said. “Ultimately we look at it as a gift. Whatever they come back with will be better than what we have.”
Ragsdale and other critics of the TMP contend the vehicle ban will greatly curtail their ability to cut firewood, pick berries, sightsee and other enjoy the Wallowa-Whitman.
Schwalbach’s announcement came one day after U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Eastern Oregon in Congress, sent a letter to the Forest Service’s regional forester in Portland urging the Wallowa-Whitman to “start over” with the TMP (see related story at right).
Walden, a Republican, also has proposed to House leaders that they attach a rider to the Forest Service’s budget bill for 2013 that requires the Wallowa-Whitman to solicit more comments from Northeastern Oregon residents before putting the TMP into effect.
Walden, along with Oregon’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both of whom hosted town halls in Northeastern Oregon recently where the TMP was the predominant topic, lauded Schwalbach’s decision to delay the plan.
“This is a first step toward rebuilding trust in the process so that the needs of the public are met,” Walden said in a press release.
Merkley: “After hearing the numerous concerns from residents at recent town hall meetings in both Baker and Union counties, it was clear to me that a lot more needs to be done to address concerns from the public.”
Wyden: “Today’s decision by the Forest Service recognizes the importance of rural Oregonians and demonstrates that their voices have been heard.”
FULL TEXT OF USFS SCHWALBACH’S LETTER:
It has been one month since the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest released its travel management decision. Since then, there has been considerable public interest and debate over various aspects of the plan. As I have listened to the many people who are commenting on the plan, it has become apparent that there is a good bit of confusion, as well as some concerns that would benefit from more discussion.
Because of these concerns I have decided to withdraw the travel management decision, and stop the clock on the appeal process that is underway. The forest needs to develop a travel management plan for public motorized recreation, but I want to be sure the various options for moving forward are considered in a constructive manner. I believe that by taking the time now to allow for further dialogue and consideration regarding the concerns that have been raised; we will develop a better outcome in the long run.
Some of the key concerns include the following.
A main concern is there have been significantly different numbers bantered about regarding how many miles of roads would be designated open for public motorized recreational use, and how many are being closed to motor vehicles. The number question is a challenging one because there are different ways of looking at the situation.
For instance, there currently are over 9,000 miles of roads on the Wallowa-Whitman national forest landscape, but only about 4,700 miles are considered open to the public. Many of the others are impassable because they are overgrown with vegetation. Meanwhile, the project area included in the travel management decision is focused on 1.3 million of the 2.4 million acres on the
Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Road totals for the project area are therefore less than those for the entire forest.
Along with the roads question, is a concern that the maps provided to the public do not offer enough detail for people to adequately consider the potential implications of the decision. I have heard several people suggest that the agency provide more information on these maps, such as road numbers, landmarks, and watershed boundaries. Without more detailed information, it is difficult to provide specific responses back to the agency about the decision, and what people might like to see changed.
Another key issue is that many people are concerned about access for firewood.
While the travel plan decision provides for identification of additional firewood cutting areas across the forest, many people
are concerned that this approach may not be adequate to meet the need for fuelwood in our northeast Oregon communities. I have met with quite a few people to discuss this concern and appreciate the various suggestions that have been offered regarding ways to address the issue.
A separate concern involves access to private lands and permitted uses such as grazing and mining on the forest. Access to private land and permitted uses is fully allowed by the travel management plan. Private land owners would still have access to their cabins, miners would continue to have access to their claims, and grazing permit holders will retain access in allotments to administer their permits.
These are all important concerns and I appreciate the people who are raising them. I also think the agency has a responsibility to address these concerns, including clarifying misinformation, providing more specific information to the public as requested, and engaging in further dialogue.
I truly appreciate the passion that has been shown in response to this decision, and want to encourage everyone to direct this passion in a positive, productive and respectful way. I encourage anyone who has additional suggestions to share them with me or one of our local district rangers. The Wallowa-Whitman national forest is treasured by all, so let’s be sure we develop a plan that is reasonable, responsible, and makes sense now and for the future.
Jan 9, 2012
Deschutes County makes the most of taxpayer dollars – but FEMA wants its money back?
So I’m guessing that nearly every one of you has been forced to make do with less over the last couple years. And we should expect the same from government agencies, right? We should expect that when agencies use taxpayer dollars, they should use the funds wisely and make the most out of the precious dollars. And that’s exactly what Deschutes County has done with some FEMA grant money they received a few years ago.
Deschutes County received some funds to do much needed forest thinning projects between La Pine and Sunriver. The project was aimed at protecting those communities from the threat of catastrophic wildfire. FEMA however wants the county to return $328,000 in federal funds, citing lack of proper environmental compliance on those lands. But the county explained to my staff in meetings that all environmental analysis was complete and in many cases, the actual lands in question were private homeowners’ lots. And get this – as the county was completing the thinning work, progress reports of the work were sent to both the state of Oregon and FEMA – no questions were asked for years.
I’ve helped arrange meetings with Deschutes Commissioner Tammy Baney and FEMA this week in Washington D.C. Hopefully we can get this issue resolved immediately and we can get back to protecting our communities from wildfire.
Jan 9, 2012
Ongoing work for Oregon’s veterans
Recently, a homeless veteran from Medford contacted my office regarding a claim he had filed for veterans benefits. My office inquired on his behalf, and the folks at the VA Regional Office in Portland responded quickly — two days after Christmas, we were informed that the veteran’s claim had been approved and that he received a check for retroactive benefits of almost $16,000 and is now being compensated at the rate of $2,040 per month.
Records of military service are vital for our veterans when they attempt to access the benefits they have earned. Sometimes, our veterans encounter difficulty navigating the complex bureaucratic process surrounding a records request. A veteran from Harney County had been struggling with just such a request, despite the best efforts of the County Veterans Service Officer, since April 2011. When my office was contacted in November, I inquired with the National Personnel Records Center on his behalf and I am happy to report that a complete copy of this veteran’s service records was delivered in just over a month. As a result, the veteran now has the evidence needed to file a claim for service-connected disability.
Also, just before the end of the year, my staff helped organize a meeting between central Oregon veterans advocacy groups and VA officials to continue to strengthen relationships in the HUD-VASH Program — that’s the initiative that helps chronically homeless veterans find housing and an opportunity to get their lives back on a positive track. I got involved to help speed the dispersal of housing vouchers after I learned about Delbert Dungan, a homeless veteran from central Oregon who suffered serious burns in an accident in his tent on Christmas day in 2010—about 6 months after he signed up to receive a housing voucher.
The picture is much better now—central Oregon has 50 vouchers for homeless veterans. The VA and community organizations, including the Central Oregon Veterans Outreach, have done good work to give veterans in that area a chance to get a roof over their heads.
We expect the VA to release another round of 10,000 vouchers nationwide, but details are not yet available regarding how many will be awarded to southern, central, and eastern Oregon. I’ll keep you posted.