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Browsing the archives for the OR Cong Greg Walden category.

News from Oregon Congressman Greg Walden 12-11-12

OR Cong Greg Walden

Wildfire recovery update—progress after the Barry Point fire

I got an update recently on wildfire recovery from Kent Connaughton, the Forest Service’s Regional Forester for the Northwest. After the fires, I asked Kent to come with me to Lakeview to personally hear from landowners who suffered horrible losses of timber and livestock during the Barry Point fire. These landowners and I are very concerned with how the Forest Service fought the fire and we’re trying to figure out how to cope with the losses they’ve suffered. I also asked Kent to conduct an independent review of what happened in the fires.

Kent did both, and gave me a status report. The Forest Service has begun its independent review of its own operations during the fire. It is still in the works, but Kent believes it raises a number of unanswered questions. He has asked for a more formal review by the states of Oregon and California, and he will share a copy of the report once it is completed next month. I look forward to getting to the bottom of these unanswered questions.

Kent also informed me that he has sent a special team into the Fremont-Winema National Forest to ensure there is no disruption in timber supply due to the fires. The Forest Service has also announced it will make 30 million board feet of timber available for each of the next two years, double the current production.

Finally, Kent gave me an update on the Forest Service’s work with affected ranchers and landowners on recovery and repair to fences and property damaged during the fire. The Forest Service is putting $100,000 into the repair of fences destroyed during firefighting, and an additional $350,000 for materials to repair fences destroyed by the fire. Additionally, the Farm Services Administration is making $196,000 available to landowners for use in repairs.

It is good news that this fire recovery work continues, but we need to see it through to the finish. I will continue to work with citizens recovering from these wildfire disasters and make sure that all levels of government are helping with recovery as quickly as possible.

Preserving support for Oregon fruit and vegetable growers

I spent my early years on a cherry orchard outside of The Dalles and know the value of Oregon’s specialty crops like cherries, potatoes, and onions. In the 2008 Farm Bill, I supported two programs that benefit our specialty crop producers in Oregon.

These programs are in danger of not continuing, though, so I joined with 54 of my colleagues in writing to the House Agriculture Committee in support of passing a new five-year farm bill and continuing two important specialty crop research programs—whether in a long-term bill or in a short-term extension should one be necessary.

One of these programs, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, supports priority research aimed at fighting pests and disease and increasing production efficiencies. In Oregon, this initiative has supported research fighting crop-destroying pests that target cherries and onions and the “zebra chip” disease in potatoes.

The other initiative, the Clean Plant Network, helps ensure that growers have access to disease-free rootstock when planting new fields or orchards. Not only is this an important resource for growers, but it also prevents the spread of disease that could be devastating to growers in Oregon and nationwide.

Specialty crops account for nearly half the value of our agriculture economy and contribute to our country’s nearly $44 billion agricultural trade surplus. These two programs are vital to our ag economy, and the House Agriculture Committee should extend them to continue to support our producers.

Thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service

We can never repay the debt we owe to our service members and veterans who serve here at home and around the globe. We can all do our part, though, to thank them for their service and wish them well during this season.

Last Wednesday, my colleague from Washington State, Rep. Rick Larsen, and I were among many members of the House who took a few minutes to write cards to our troops and their families as part of the Red Cross “Holiday Mail for Heroes” program (picture below). Thank you to the Red Cross for organizing this important program, which sends greeting cards to troops and their families at home and overseas. If you’d like to learn how you can participate, click here to visit the Red Cross website.

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From Oregon Congressman Greg Walden

Agriculture, Agriculture - California, Federal gov & land grabs, OR Cong Greg Walden, Over-regulations, Ranch life, Threats to agriculture

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.

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Fight over Forest Road closures slows in Oregon

Federal gov & land grabs, Forestry & USFS, OR Cong Greg Walden

http://www.bakercityherald.com/Local-News/Schwalbach-stops-clock-on-TMP

Schwalbach ‘stops clock’ on TMP

Written by Jayson Jacoby April 18, 2012 08:40 am

By JAYSON JACOBY

jjacoby@bakercityherald.com

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.

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Oregon – FEMA wants money back?

Federal gov & land grabs, OR Cong Greg Walden

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.

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Congressman Walden aids homeless veteran

OR Cong Greg Walden, Veterans & soldiers

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.

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Walden reports on Post Office closures – stopped for now

OR Cong Greg Walden, U.S. Post Offices

From Oregon Congressman Greg Walden

Update on rural post offices

As you know, the Postal Service released plans last year to look into closing 3,600 post offices around the country, including 31 in southern, central, and eastern Oregon. With my strong support, on Dec. 16 the House passed (and the President eventually signed into law) legislation that prevents the Postal Service from closing any rural post offices through September.

Make no mistake, the Postal Service is in dire straits. Mail volume is down 20 percent since 2006. This year alone, the agency is projected to lose more than $9 billion, and could cease operations next year if something isn’t done. With a nationwide retail network larger than all McDonalds, Starbucks, UPS, and FedEx combined, I recognize the need to increase the efficiency of the system. I am concerned, though, about potential closures disproportionately affecting rural areas, especially in light of the fact that maintaining rural post offices only amounts to 0.7 percent of the Postal Service’s total budget.

The Postal Service’s own watchdog even said in a report released on Dec. 23 that their plans lacked proper analysis, as the Postal Service did not collect individualized cost savings estimates or separate retail costs from other operational costs. It also found that the options that the Postal Service gave for alternative access were not suitable.

This freeze on closing rural post offices will give the Postal Service time to rethink its approach—this time with the input of the people’s elected representatives. The Postal Service is facing billion dollar deficits, and saving it requires serious reforms.  The Postal Service should use this time given to it by Congress to develop a better approach that cuts costs and reforms its operations, while preserving service for all Oregonians, including those in rural communities.

I will continue to keep you updated on this issue as Congress works with the Postal Service to cut costs and reform operations. It’s an honor to serve you.

 

 

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