State of the County presented

Posted on February 12th in News

 

Representatives of various groups on hand for event

by Samantha White

Burns Times-Herald

Harney County School District No. 3 Superintendent Dr. Marilyn McBride uses a visual aid to explain accomplishments and goals of the district. (Photo by SAMANTHA WHITE)

Harney County School District No. 3 Superintendent Dr. Marilyn McBride uses a visual aid to explain accomplishments and goals of the district. (Photo by SAMANTHA WHITE)

 

A variety of representatives from local organizations gathered at the Harney County Community Center Feb. 5 for the annual State of the County address. Each representative provided a brief summary concerning the challenges and accomplishments of their respective organizations and provided their projections for the future. A summary of each presentation is as follows:

High Desert Partnership/Harney County Restoration Collaborative

Sara Jones, executive director of the High Desert Partnership, explained that the partnership “works behind the scenes” to support collaborative efforts to resolve social, economic, and ecological challenges facing communities in Southeastern Oregon.

For example, the partnership was involved with  the successful completion of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).

Another accomplishment was securing a grant for the Harney County Restoration Collaborative (HCRC).

The HCRC was developed to help coordinate forest health restoration efforts on the Emigrant Creek Ranger District on the Malheur National Forest. Jack Southworth said the collaborative has been busy addressing road management issues on the forest and working to develop a balanced plan that will meet the needs of hunters, industry and wildlife.

A public science forum will be held March 7 at the Harney County Community Center, and Dr. Jerry F. Franklin and Dr. K. Norman Johnson will present the science behind dry-side restoration of Eastern Oregon forests.

The partnership and collaborative are also developing an economic summit, to be held this fall, to highlight local resources and explore options for sustainable manufacturing of local forest products.

Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 

Carla Burnside, refuge archaeologist, said the refuge recently completed its CCP (a comprehensive, 15-year plan) using a “very diverse” collaborative group. She noted that the High Desert Partnership was the force behind it, and said there weren’t any legal appeals after the plan was finalized, which is a major accomplishment.

Burnside also reported that the refuge has been receiving assistance from interns whose positions are funded by the Audubon Society of Portland. The refuge also has 15 full-time employees, and there are currently four vacant positions. Burnside said she is not sure when the vacant positions will be filled.

Burnside added that the refuge is planning a carp marking and recapture study that, if successful, will be the largest in the world.

Forest Service

Christy Cheyne, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) district ranger, said she is passionate about being involved in the community.

Cheyne said she’s been working with the HCRC on six large-scale projects.

She has also been working to secure Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and Title II funds.

She added that the USFS hires “a tremendous amount” of local people, adding that 85 percent of the fire crew is made up of local hires. Cheyne said most USFS employees are active in the community, taking part in activities such as the Free Fishing Day and the John Scharff Migratory Bird Festival.

Cheyne said she is currently working on the Wolf Project, and a public meeting is scheduled for March 10 at 6 p.m. at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center to discuss how roads could be impacted by the project.

BLM

Jeff Rose, associate district manager of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), reported that the Shooting Range fire, which was located near the city limits of Burns and Hines, was one of the most notable wildfires of last year’s season. In response to the fire, 71 Single  Engine Air Tanker (SEAT) plane missions were completed in a four-hour period, and the national BLM office later provided funding to build a SEAT base at the Burns Municipal Airport. Rose said he hopes the base will be completed by June.

In an effort to address damages caused by wildfires that burned in 2012, thousands of acres have been seeded, both from the air and on-the-ground, and several miles of fence line have been constructed or re-constructed.

Rose said, last year, 68 horses were adopted from the wild horse corrals in one weekend, and the horse that won the 2013 Mustang Million (a competition designed to provide incentives for people to adopt and train wild horses) was from Harney County. There are currently 650 horses in the wild horse corrals.

Rose said the BLM has been working with the Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council and the Steens Mountain Advisory Council (SMAC). There are currently six vacancies on the SMAC, and anyone who is interested in either council should contact Rose or BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tara Martinak for more information.

Rose concluded his presentation by briefly discussing the draft Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA)/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Public comments regarding the RMPA/EIS are due Feb. 20.

Harney County School District 3

Dr. Marilyn McBride, superintendent of Harney County School District 3, reported that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently rated Hines Middle School in the top 10 percent of Oregon schools. She also reported that Slater Grade School made marked improvements. However, McBride said the district really needs to concentrate on the special education population.

She added that there have been changes to the scope of the school district, explaining that, instead of focusing on kindergarten through 12th grade, the district must now target youth ages 0-20. She said the district needs to focus on preparing students for kindergarten and ensuring that high school students graduate and acquire college credits.

McBride said 45 college credits were earned at Burns High School last year, and “more and more” college credits are being earned by students while they are still in high school.

McBride said one of her goals is to hire another fourth-grade teacher, as there  are currently only two fourth-grade teachers, and there will be 63 fourth-grade students next year.

Other goals include adding a child developmental specialist who will focus on middle school students, and providing full-day kindergarten classes. McBride said she also wants the focus more on attendance, and she urged community members to assist with this effort.

Harney County School District UH1J

Gail Buermann, superintendent of Crane Elementary and Crane Union High schools, described Crane Elementary as a “vibrant place of learning,” and she reported that the school earned a level 4 on the ODE report card.

Buermann said there are currently 52 students enrolled in kindergarten through 8th grade. And there are three regular classroom teachers, a Title I teacher, and a special education teacher at the elementary school.

She said the school is working to provide a “seamless transition” between middle and high school and to help students get a “head start” on graduation. Other goals for Crane Elementary School include ensuring that students are reading by third grade and launching full-day kindergarten classes.

Buermann said Crane Union High School (CUHS) received a level 5 on the ODE report card, ranking it in the top 10 percent of schools in the state of Oregon. She added that 100 percent of CUHS’ seniors graduated in 2013, and all Crane seniors are on course to graduate in 2014. Buermann added that graduates are “meeting expectations that far exceed requirements from previous years.”

Buermann also reported that eligibility requirements for the Clemens scholarship have changed, leaving this year’s seniors “scrambling to make other plans to finance their college expenses.” However, she said the district is grateful for the “tremendous financial support” that the scholarship has provided to college-bound CUHS students.

One of the goals for CUHS is to give students the opportunity to earn college credits while they are still in high school.

Buermann said the biggest challenge facing the district is adjusting expenditures to match decreasing revenue.

Harney District Hospital

Harney District Hospital (HDH) Chief Executive Officer Jim Bishop reported that 11 new, full-time employees have been added to the hospital staff.

“I think that trend is going to continue,” he said regarding the hiring increase.

Bishop said this trend will have a huge impact on the county’s economy because these are well-paying jobs. He added that pay for HDH staff is comparable to that of staff working in other small, Oregon hospitals.

Bishop said HDH’s goal is to recruit “top-of-the-line” health-care professionals and retain good, skilled people. He added that the top two causes of turnover at the hospital are retirement and the inability of staff members’ spouses to obtain employment.

Bishop also reported that the hospital acquired  a clinic and physical therapy. He said acquisitions such as these are also becoming a trend in the health-care industry, as health care is becoming increasingly complicated and regulation-bound. Bishop said the acquisition allows HDH to handle the business and financial aspects of these practices, while allowing doctors and physicians to focus on providing healthcare.

Bishop said many patients are taking advantage of the hospital’s swing bed/rehabilitation services to recover from surgeries that they received in Bend. However, he said HDH would like to bring more specialists to the hospital so that patients can have their procedures performed locally.

Bishop said HDH is actively recruiting a new doctor and physician assistant.

He added that the hospital has been busy addressing health care reform, which will bring major changes to the way HDH operates. He explained that, in the past, the hospital was paid to treat sick individuals. Now, the focus has shifted to making the population healthier. Bishop said HDH is “making strides” toward this goal, and some of the effects will be immediate, while others will become evident years down the road.

Economic Development

Randy Fulton, Harney County Economic Development director, said he believes the Silvies Valley Ranch will be a “tremendous economic boom” to both Harney and Grant counties.

He added that he has been working with a company to establish a food-processing plant in Harney County for more than three years, explaining that the company is “slow and deliberate,” but “very successful.” Fulton said he plans to meet with the company in early March, and he hopes to learn when and where it will build, and how many people it will employ.

Harney County

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty was the final speaker of the evening, and he reminded those in attendance that Feb. 25 marks the county’s 125th anniversary.

Grasty said the county is currently developing its budget, and he does not expect any major changes. He added that he recently learned that the county will receive a Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payment this year, and said the county would face “significant issues” without it.

Grasty also reported that the county was recently awarded an Early Learning Council Hub, and he recognized Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols for his work with that effort.

Grasty added that the county is going to “step up” and do some road maintenance, explaining that a lot of maintenance had been deferred in the past.

Grasty said recruiting jobs continues to be a priority for the county, adding that Fulton and the Harney County Court have worked very hard to recruit the Pacific Natural Foods food-processing plant. Grasty said any rumors stating that he discouraged the plant are untrue.

Grasty said the county is facing some major challenges, and sage grouse management is among them. He explained that 1,100 jobs were lost in Harney County due to management decisions concerning the spotted owl, and he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

Grasty added that a public meeting will be held March 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Harney County Community Center to address the USFS Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision, and he encouraged the community to attend. The plan will impact the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests.

Grasty said the county continues to address issues concerning FEMA flood insurance increases, and he announced that the county officially declared drought.

Grasty concluded his presentation by discussing the successes of various collaborative efforts throughout the county, including the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (to address sage grouse conservation), rural fire protection programs, and cooperative weed management efforts, among others.

“Nobody anywhere does it any better than we do. We are the answer. And you can make that ‘we’ as broad as you want to,” Grasty said.

He added that Harney County is “the best place” with “the best people,” and he urged the community to stay involved.

 


 

Beef producers sell an estimated 3.2 million pounds during PNI 

 

Representatives from the Pacific Northwest Initiative promotion team in Japan in 2013.  Plans for Phase II for 2014 are under development. (Submitted photo)

Representatives from the Pacific Northwest Initiative promotion team in Japan in 2013. Plans for Phase II for 2014 are under development. (Submitted photo)

One year ago, on Feb. 1, 2013, Japan eased restrictions on U.S. beef exports in a market access development that has been very positive for regional beef producers. Taking advantage of the opportunity to sell more beef to Japan, state producer groups including the Idaho Beef Council, the Oregon Beef Council, and the Washington State Beef Commission joined together to work on market expansion efforts. They developed a marketing plan with the assistance of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) with the help of their staff in Denver and Tokyo.

The joint program, the Pacific Northwest Initiative (PNI), was conducted in the late spring and early summer of 2013. The results were impressive.  A marketing campaign involving both grocery retail and food service sectors in Japan, facilitated through some very helpful Japanese importers and distributors, doubled the amount of U.S. beef entering the market during the promotion period. The beef came from exporters in the Pacific Northwest and has helped the bottom line for producers in the region. The total amount sold during the promotion period was estimated by USMEF at more than 3.2 million pounds.

Following the success of the 2013 Pacific Northwest Initiative, the three state beef councils reached out to producers for feedback. Greg Hanes from the USMEF spoke at an Oregon Beef Council meeting in December, and also to the attendees at the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association annual convention and also at their Cattlemen’s College. Cevin Jones, an Idaho Beef Council board member, who is also vice-chairman of the Federation of State Beef Councils, went to a meeting of the Washington State Beef Commission to talk directly with that group about the Pacific Northwest Initiative.  The three state groups sent representatives to Boise in January 2014 to review PNI results to date and to talk about a possible Phase II for the PNI project.

“This is a very exciting program, and it helps all producers to have increasing exports,” said Jones. “The results have been even better than we projected, and by working together, we are making a significant impact in the Japanese market.”


CCAA a result of collaborative efforts

 

A partnership effort among diverse interests in Eastern Oregon has resulted in a draft Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) to conserve Greater Sage Grouse and their habitats on private rangelands in Harney County. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) partnered with the Harney Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) and a steering committee comprised of local private landowners and representatives from Harney SWCD, Harney County Court, Oregon State University Extension, The Nature Conservancy, Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, as well as numerous state and federal agencies to develop this agreement.

A CCAA is a voluntary agreement whereby landowners agree to manage their lands to remove or reduce threats to a species that may become listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In return, landowners receive assurances against additional regulatory requirements should that species ever be listed under the ESA. This CCAA provides landowners assurances that routine ranch and associated land management practices can continue in the event sage grouse is listed, while also identifying opportunities to provide additional benefits by reducing or removing existing threats to sage grouse.

“The Harney County Programmatic CCAA represents nearly three years of successful collaborative development efforts between the ranching community of Harney County, the Fish & Wildlife Service, and many other participating agencies,” said Tom Sharp, landowner and chair of the CCAA Steering Committee.

“The best way to conserve the sage grouse is to work with private landowners, who are primary stewards of the land,” said Paul Henson, state supervisor, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office.  “Working together, we can develop protections that will work towards keeping the sage grouse off the endangered species list. Strong partnership efforts have shown the greatest success in protecting species.”

Prior to settlement in the 19th century, sage grouse inhabited 13 Western states and three Canadian provinces. They have declined across their range due to a variety of causes, and now occur in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. The primary threat across their range is a loss of habitat due to increased surface disturbance and fragmentation of the landscape. Greater Sage Grouse were listed as a candidate species in 2010, but was precluded from being listed as threatened or endangered species at greater risk of extinction. The USFWS is scheduled to make a final listing decision in September of 2015.

In Oregon, sage grouse were once found in most grassland and sagebrush habitats east of the Cascades. European settlement and conversion of sagebrush steppe into agricultural production led to extirpation of the species in the Columbia Basin by the early part of the 1900s, but sagebrush rangelands have persisted, particularly in Southeast Oregon. Sage grouse populations have fluctuated markedly since the mid-1900s. Although Oregon sage grouse numbers have declined over the long term, over the last 30 years, a relatively stable population has been observed.

“Our goal is to ensure that the species is able to maintain its viability,” Henson said. “Our biologists and staff work closely with the public and other partners to save wildlife, improve habitat and preserve a future where the public can enjoy nature.” The CCAA between the USFWS and the SWCD covers over 1 million acres of private rangelands within the range of sage grouse in Harney County.

Landowners who voluntarily enroll in the CCAA will develop site-specific plans that will address threats to sage grouse and maintain or improve habitat on enrolled lands. Examples of activities that enrolled landowner may implement for sage grouse include juniper removal, invasive weed control, installing visual markers on fences that may pose a strike risk for sage grouse and retrofiting water troughs with escape ramps.

“This agreement provides farmers and ranchers within Harney County the best opportunity to proactively protect their private land use interests, while demonstrating their stewardship towards maintaining a healthy ecological system of rangelands, and hopefully contribute to a non-listing decision of the sage grouse by the Fish & Wildlife Service,” said Sharp. “Additionally, we welcome and encourage other counties within Oregon and other affected Western states to utilize this CCAA as a guiding template to help assist development efforts of CCAAs within other jurisdictions.”

For more information about Greater Sage Grouse, and to view the Federal Register notice and associated documents, visit www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/. Comments will be accepted on the CCAA and the associated Environmental Assessment until Feb. 14.


Behne comfortable with rural lifestyle

Kelly Behne joined Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick’s staff at the end of January. (Photo by RANDY PARKS)

Kelly Behne joined Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick’s staff at the end of January. (Photo by RANDY PARKS)

Visitors to the Mountain Sage Medical Clinic in Burns are bound to see a new face walking the hallway.

Physician Assistant Kelly Behne joined the staff near the end of January, and is looking forward to her new position.

Behne grew up and graduated from high school in the Coulee City, Wash. area, so she’s no stranger to the rural lifestyle.

Following high school, Behne attended Eastern Washington University in Cheney, earning a bachelor’s degree in outdoor recreation.

For the next 10 years or so, Behne worked as a  ski patrol member in Washington, and a trip leader for outdoor recreationists on the East Coast.

She then attended Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, graduating from the two-year program with a master’s degree in physician assistant studies.

Behne said after graduation, she heard about the open position at Mountain Sage Medical Clinic from classmates, came to Burns for the interview, and got the job.

“Some of my classmates didn’t want to apply for the job because their ‘significant others’ weren’t too sure about moving to a rural area,” Behne said with a smile. “I like it. I’m looking forward to getting a horse again. I grew up on a farm and ranch, and I like the rural lifestyle and open spaces.”


Walden asks BLM for extension

Posted on January 29th in News

Supports bill for conservation efforts

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) announced Jan. 24, he has urged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to extend their comment period for their draft proposal for sage grouse management.

“Many Oregonians have told me about the drastic impact this draft plan could have on rural communities throughout the west. They’ve also told me that complying with the deadline for comments is challenging due to the lack of availability of the document and complexity of the matter,” Walden wrote in a letter to BLM Deputy Director Neil Kornze.

“Extending the public comment period by 30 days would provide those wishing to provide comment the time they need to review the document and provide thorough comments. Local communities are most affected by the land management decisions, and residents deserve the opportunity to have their input incorporated into the final decisions,” Walden continued.

Community leaders supported Walden’s call for more input. “While it is absolutely necessary to complete the sage grouse DEIS/RMPA in a timely manner to prevent a listing, it is also an absolute that the public must have an adequate opportunity (and means) to review and comment on this massive document. Government today can and should be transparent. I applaud the congressman’s request to ensure good input to this process,” said Harney County Judge Steve Grasty.

The BLM has been holding public meetings on their Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for sage grouse in Eastern Oregon communities, including Prineville, Burns, Ontario, Baker City, Lakeview, Jordan Valley, and Durkee. Many Oregonians have told Walden that they have arrived at these public meetings to find that there were only a few printed copies of the draft proposal available for the hundreds of local residents who attended.

The draft proposal consists of three volumes, and adds up to 1,120 pages. The document discusses six different alternative management plans examining how those plans would impact habitat, vegetation, other wildlife, wildfire management, grazing, recreation and mining. Downloading it online can take hours.

Last week, Walden supported a bill passed by Congress that would boost conservation efforts in an effort to prevent listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species.


Court discusses drought declaration

Posted on January 29th in News

County’s 125th anniversary

by Samantha White

Burns Times-Herald

During the public comment period of the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held Jan. 22), Herb Vloedman addressed the court regarding the lack of snowpack that he observed in his travels around the state. Vloedman said conditions are dry in Harney County, and he encouraged the court to move forward with a drought declaration.

“We need to get it done as early as possible,” he said.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said he believed the county was already included in a national drought declaration, but it will benefit the county to obtain a declaration from the state of Oregon, as well.

Later in the meeting, Grasty suggested that the court prepare a drought declaration and write a letter to the governor.

Grasty said the county does not have resources available to help its citizens address drought conditions.

Ron Copeland, assistant county emergency management coordinator, was present to provide input concerning the declaration.

•••

Verna Pettyjohn, Mildred Fine and Dale White attended the meeting to dedicate the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center’s new addition  and parking lot to the Harney County Court in appreciation of the court’s contributions to the project.

“It’s been a wonderful project,” Pettyjohn said, emphasizing the building’s importance to the community.

Pettyjohn also recognized a variety of other individuals who contributed to the success of the project, and stated that the building’s new heating system is very efficient.

White added, “I just want to say, ‘We appreciate your support with the project, but we really appreciate your ongoing support day-after-day, year-after-year.’ We have the best center because we have the best county court in the state of Oregon. I really believe that.”

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said he appreciated the recognition, but it is the people at the center who deserve the praise.

“It’s the folks working down there that make it exemplary — the staff and volunteers,” Nichols said.

•••

Harney County Clerk Derrin (Dag) Robinson reminded the court that the county’s 125th anniversary will be on Feb. 25. Robinson said he will work with the court and community organizations to plan activities to recognize the anniversary.

•••

In other business, the court:

• discussed ongoing issues concerning Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). Grasty stressed the importance of these federal payments, which help local governments offset losses in property taxes due to non-taxable federal lands within their boundaries. Because many of the congressional bills that have been introduced now include PILT funding, Grasty said he is cautiously optimistic;

• received an update from Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella who discussed continued construction on Double 00 Road. Drushella said he is considering doing overlay on Hotchkiss Lane, part of Airport Lane and the road in front of Crane Union High School, as well as some chip seal work around Harney Valley;

• reviewed and adopted the Federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mileage reimbursement rate of $0.56 for calendar year 2014 for travel when personal vehicle use is required. In order to reflect true expense, the court agreed by consensus to the concept of reimbursing half the IRS mileage rate for travel when employees choose to use their personal vehicles. Grasty will prepare an order for the next county court meeting;

• opened bids for crushed rock at 11 a.m. The court received bids from Harney Rock & Paving Co. and ACW Rock & Ready-Mix.  With a bid of $268,560, Harney Rock & Paving Co. was the low bidder. And, upon recommendation from Drushella, the court agreed to award the bid to Harney Rock;

• received an update from Grasty concerning the sage grouse Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Feb. 5, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.


Cattle truck rolls over on 395 S.

Posted on January 22nd in News

 

Area ranchers help round up cattle

 

Emergency responders on the scene of the crash. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State Police)

Emergency responders on the scene of the crash. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State Police)

One person was injured and approximately 10 cattle died as the result of a rollover traffic crash Wednesday, Jan. 15, involving a truck pulling a trailer loaded with cattle along Highway 395 about one mile north of Wagontire in Harney County.

 
According to Sergeant Brian Williams, on Jan. 15, at approximately 12:33 p.m., a Peterbilt truck pulling an enclosed semi-trailer loaded with cattle was traveling on Highway 395 near milepost 29. As the truck negotiated through a right curve, the load inside the trailer shifted, causing the truck and trailer to tip onto its left side, slide off the highway and come to rest in the ditch on the west side of the highway.

 
Driver James Eynetich, 63, from Ione, was not injured. Passenger Gayle Eynetich, 63, was injured and extricated by Hines Fire Department personnel. She was transported by ambulance to Harney District Hospital in Burns with non-life threatening injuries.

 
Emergency responders from Oregon State Police (OSP), Harney County Sheriff’s Office, Harney EMS, and Hines Fire Department came to the scene.

 
Sergeant Williams credited the work by firefighters and area ranch volunteers who came to the scene. Firefighters cut openings in the overturned trailer to get cows out, and cowboys on horseback helped round up loose cattle. The southbound lane was closed for about six hours while volunteers helped round up loose cattle. Approximately 10 cows were directly killed or had to be euthanized at the scene because of injuries sustained in the crash.

 
The total number of surviving cattle is not available at this time.


Coyote hunt spurs hearing

Posted on January 22nd in News

 

A large crowd gathered at the Harney County Courthouse Friday, Jan. 17, to attend a circuit court hearing regarding the Eighth Annual JMK Coyote Hunt scheduled for Jan. 18 and 19 in Crane. Harney County resident Louann Thompson, along with wildlife conservation organization Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit Thursday, Jan. 16, requesting a temporary restraining order to stop the contest. The plaintiffs stated that fear stemming from the hunt would prevent Thompson from enjoying the outdoors that weekend and that the event, which was to feature a Calcutta and $100 per person entry fee, would violate state gambling laws. Every available seat in the courtroom was occupied Jan. 17 (and spectators spilled into the hallway) when Judge William Cramer Jr. stated that, because he was not convinced that irreparable harm would occur if the contest continued, he would not be issuing the requested restraining order. Cramer made it clear that the crowd was not a factor in his decision. A status hearing is set for March 21 at 8:30 a.m. (Photo by Samantha White)

(Photo by Samantha White)

A large crowd gathered at the Harney County Courthouse Friday, Jan. 17, to attend a circuit court hearing regarding the Eighth Annual JMK Coyote Hunt scheduled for Jan. 18 and 19 in Crane. Harney County resident Louann Thompson, along with wildlife conservation organization Project Coyote and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit Thursday, Jan. 16, requesting a temporary restraining order to stop the contest.

 

The plaintiffs stated that fear stemming from the hunt would prevent Thompson from enjoying the outdoors that weekend and that the event, which was to feature a Calcutta and $100 per person entry fee, would violate state gambling laws. Every available seat in the courtroom was occupied Jan. 17 (and spectators spilled into the hallway) when Judge William Cramer Jr. stated that, because he was not convinced that irreparable harm would occur if the contest continued, he would not be issuing the requested restraining order.

 

Cramer made it clear that the crowd was not a factor in his decision. A status hearing is set for March 21 at 8:30 a.m.


Sage grouse hearing draws large crowd

Posted on January 15th in News

 

USFWS to make decision on listing next year

 
by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

 
It was standing room only at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, Tuesday, Jan. 7, as hundreds attended a public meeting held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to discuss the draft Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage Grouse Resource Management Plan (RMP) Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

 
According to the BLM’s website, an RMP is a “comprehensive land use plan” that is used to “guide management decisions and actions on public lands.”

 
An EIS is a detailed analysis used to insure that policies and goals defined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are used by federal agencies in ongoing programs and actions.

 
Brendan Cain, district manager of the Burns District of the BLM, explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) — which determined that Greater Sage Grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act in March 2010 — called for amendments to the BLM’s current RMP for Greater Sage Grouse habitat. He added that proposed amendments to the BLM’s RMP are intended to show the agency’s long-term commitment to conservation and habitat restoration measures for the species. However, Cain added that the BLM also hopes to keep private landowners in mind.

 
“We hope to maintain the widest possible range of options for managing public lands and for our neighboring landowners,” Cain said.
He added that, because the Greater Sage Grouse is currently on the candidate list for future regulatory action, federal agencies, states, tribes and private landowners have the opportunity to continue working cooperatively to conserve the species and restore its habitat.

 
BLM Wildlife Biologist Glenn Frederick explained that the candidate classification means that the sage grouse population has been declining in numbers over the years.

 
“The bird is obviously not in such dire straits that it can’t be hunted and that you don’t see it, but predictions are that it will continue to decline. For that reason, the BLM classified it as a ‘species of concern’ many years ago,” Frederick said.

 
He added that, because the sage grouse is listed as a candidate now, action needs to be taken to show that the species can be managed without the additional constraints of an Endangered Species Act listing.

 
“I think we can do that,” Frederick said.

 
The USFWS has until September 2015 to decide whether Greater Sage Grouse should be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 
Navigating the RMPA/EIS
Holly Orr, BLM planning and environmental coordinator, discussed the range of alternatives presented in the BLM’s draft RMPA/EIS and provided tips for navigating the cumbersome document.

 
“The first order of business is, if you can’t understand something or you can’t find something, call me. That’s my job, and that’s what you pay me for. I’ll help you through it,” Orr said.

 
She then explained the various chapters of the document and gave an overview of the proposed alternatives for sage grouse habitat management, which range from A to F.

 
Alternative A is the no-action alternative. If this alternative is chosen, the BLM will continue to implement its current management strategy. Alternative B is based on the multi-agency National Technical Team (NTT) report, which was created by the National Policy Team. Alternatives C and F are based on public scoping comments that were submitted from a variety of interest groups a couple years ago. Alternative E is based on the 2011 Sage Grouse Conservation and Assessment Strategy that was developed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).

 

“That does not mean it’s the alternative we are definitely going to select,” Orr said regarding the preferred alternative.

 
She added that public input is being solicited to determine whether changes should be made to the draft RMPA/EIS.

 
“I want to, not only hear how [the RMPA/EIS] is going to affect you personally, but how will it affect you, your neighbor and the county? That’s the type of information that, once given back, can be incorporated into the final [RMPA/EIS] that will come out to the public and help the decision-maker make a decision,” Orr said.

 
She added that the decision-maker can take information from various alternatives to make a final decision, or a new alternative can be developed based on comments submitted by the public.

 
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty later asked who the decision-makers will be at the end of the process, and Joan Suther, Oregon Sub-Regional Greater Sage Grouse project manager, replied that, as of right now, the plan is to have the state directors of Oregon and Washington make the final decision.

 

Accessing information
During the question and answer period, Buck Taylor commented that the maps provided in the draft RMPA/EIS were not specific enough, and he offered suggestions for improving them. He then asked how the public can access more detailed maps.
Suther said detailed maps were available at the meeting, and links to digital versions of these maps are available online. However, she recognized that the digital maps are not easily accessible to everyone, adding that individuals would need to install GIS software on their computers in order to view them.

 
Later in the meeting, Judge Grasty said that, in order for people to make “good, solid comments,” they need access to interactive maps and hard copies of the draft RMPA/EIS. He explained that people need to be able to look at specific grazing permit allotments, hunting areas, and roads in order to understand what the impacts will be under the various alternatives presented in the document. Grasty said that he can’t commit the other counties, but he can commit Harney County to helping with this effort.

 
Suther replied that hard copies of the document are “extremely expensive to print,” but said she doesn’t mind printing the copies that are needed.

 
Orr offered to take a count of people who want hard copies of the draft RMPA/EIS, and reminded those in attendance that CDs are also available.

 
Suther suggested that interested persons request hard copies of maps from their district contacts.

 
Population decline
A member of the public asked if there is a reason for the decline in sage grouse population and whether anything suggested in the draft RMPA/EIS will help stop it.

 
BLM biologist Frederick replied that there are a myriad of reasons for the decline. However, he said the primary causes in Oregon are wildfires and evasive plant species (such as juniper) that destroy or replace sage brush, which is the staple of the sage grouse’s habitat. He added that predation on hens, chicks and nest is also a major factor.

 
Frederick said the RMPA/EIS identifies regulatory mechanisms that the BLM can administer  (such as managing vegetation, influencing the size of wildfires, restoring areas that were damaged by wildfires, and controlling the location of development) to help address the declining sage grouse population.

 
Another member of the public asked why sage grouse cannot be raised and hatched in a manner similar to other birds.

 
Frederick replied that, in order for a capture and release program to work, the sage grouse would need suitable habitat to be released into. He said efforts to release and transplant sage grouse have been unsuccessful because the birds tend to return to the land they originate from, even if their habitat was destroyed.

 
“For some reason (darn them) they like where they’re from, and they know their neighborhood, and they want to stay there. It’s amazing how, after a fire and everything is gone, they come back to the same spot,” Frederick said.

 
USFWS Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jeff Dillon added that the species will not reproduce in pens.

 
The same member of the public asked, “But what do we do about Mother Nature that burns everything up?”

 
This question was not answered.

 
Predators
Tim Smith commented that very little was included in the draft RMPA/EIS regarding the threat of predators to sage grouse populations.
“There is almost nothing about predation in there, which is a serious problem,” Smith said.

 
Suther replied that predation is one of the many threats to sage grouse that are listed in the document, but it is not at the top of the list.

 
Another member of the public asked whether the wolf should be considered a predator to sage grouse, and Dillon replied that not enough data had been collected regarding the threat of wolves on the sage grouse population.

 

Tax dollars
Smith also expressed concern regarding the cost of developing the RMPA/EIS.

 
“Now, I think it’s pretty clear from the turnout we’ve got here tonight that people are more concerned about the people management aspects of this than they are sage grouse management,” Smith said. “This study was done with tax-payer dollars. I would like to know how many tax-payer dollars went into this to actually implement activities that will harm the economy of the rural parts of Oregon and The West.”

 
Suther replied that she did not have a specific answer to Smith’s question because it has been a “very broad effort.”

 
However, she said, “It’s definitely in the millions of dollars.”

 
Smith asked whether a cost benefit analysis should be considered every time a major decision like this is made.

 
Suther replied, “Actually, when you’re talking about endangered species, there are some cost benefits, but it’s not always just about the dollars.”

 
Economic impact on veterans
Harney County Veterans Service Officer Guy McKay had a question about the economic impact that the RMPA/EIS would have on Harney County’s veterans.

 
BLM Socioeconomic Specialist Stewart Allen replied that the economic impact on veterans was not analyzed in the draft RMPA/EIS.

 
“The closest that it comes to that type of analysis is what we call Environmental Justice analysis that looks at the affects of the plan on minority and/or low-income populations. And that analysis is there, and one of the findings was that there would be a disproportionate negative impact on low-income residence in Harney County and two other counties,” Allen said.

 
Funding
Barry Anderson said there was a lot of information in the RMPA/EIS, especially in the preferred alternative, detailing what would need to be done in order to monitor sage grouse habitat. He asked how the BLM would fund these activities, considering that many BLM projects are currently underfunded. He added that the agency has not had the funds to manage its wild horse program or replace fences that were destroyed by wildfires.

 
Suther replied that  not a lot of additional monitoring would be required under the preferred alternative, but said there would be some.

 
Cattle grazing
Rep. Cliff Bentz asked, “What can these people here do tonight to assist you in reducing the chance of a listing?”

 
He also asked, “Why is it that your preferred alternative suggest that we not graze cattle?”

 
He added that the citizens are concerned because they’ve seen reports from the local agricultural research center suggesting that grazing does not have an adverse effect on the sage grouse population.

 
BLM Rangeland Management Specialist Bob Hopper replied that only some of the proposed alternatives consider livestock reduction. He said these alternatives include Alternatives C (which suggests that no grazing be allowed), D (which is the BLM preferred alternative), and F.

 
Suther said the preferred alternative “has a minor reduction in grazing.” However, she added that, “It can be a big deal if that minor reduction occurs on your allotment.”

 
Suther explained that the grazing reduction suggested under Alternative D specifies that certain, researched natural areas containing certain percentages of sage grouse habitat would be closed.

 
“And it totals about 118,000 acres out of the 10 million acres of sage grouse habitat that we’re talking about,” she said.

 
In response to Bentz’s questions regarding what people can do to prevent the sage grouse listing, Suther replied that current actions being completed on the ground, such as juniper management, should be showcased.

 
Private lands
Dan Haak asked how the alternatives proposed in the RMPA/EIS will affect private lands.

 
Suther replied, “The decision is specific to BLM lands only. And that’s really important that people hear that and understand that.”

 
However, later in the meeting, Judge Grasty commented, “When you affect the public ground, these folks are adversely affected, vitally.”

 
He added that the first page of the draft RMPA/EIS discusses 15 million acres of sage grouse habitat, not 10 million.

 
“Fifteen million acres would be 5 million acres of private ground,” Grasty said.

 
Suther replied that the 15 million acres that are mentioned in the draft RMPA/EIS document include the planning area boundary, but she said the actual decision will be made on the 10 million acres of BLM land.

 
However, she added, “I think we have to make a decision on the private land and the impact to private land owners and the social and economic impact. And we have tried to do that, and I would like to hear some specific recommendations on how we can improve that in your written comment.”

 
Grasty replied, “I want to give you the specific one, and I guess I would like to hear why it wasn’t considered.  There’s an exact parallel with the combination of private and public land that was an economic disaster for the state in the spotted owl. Why can’t that be compared on a social-economic basis? There were tons of studies done afterward on that. And look at the final results of it — we’re out there killing a protected bird…Why aren’t we analyzing the spotted owl, which is such a direct parallel on economic and social?”

 
Mechanized access
Haak, who is a leader of the Open Roads Coalition, also asked how the RMPA/EIS’ proposed alternatives will impact mechanized access in Harney County.

 
Suther suggested that Haak study the travel management, transportation, and recreation sections of the draft RMPA/EIS.

 
She added that areas closed to OHV (off-highway vehicles) now would remain closed, and areas within priority sage grouse habitat would become limited to OHV use, meaning that these vehicles would be limited to existing roads and trails.

 
Ron Copeland, training officer for Harney County Search and Rescue, later asked whether any thought had been given to how the preferred alternative might impact search and rescue efforts, as mechanized equipment is used for rescue operations.

 
Suther replied that exceptions to the restrictions can be made “case by case.” She added that, “The OHV restriction is not a 100 percent kind of deal.” But added, “The idea would be to avoid the priority sage grouse habitat whenever practical.”

 
Transmission lines
Randy Whitaker, general manager of Harney Electric Cooperative Inc., said it was mentioned that transmission lines could be a problem for sage grouse, but it would cost $500 million to put Harney Electric’s transmission lines underground.

 
“That’s $400,000 per member out there. That’s a huge economic impact…And we can’t get the funding for that,” he said, adding that losing this source of electricity could be a public safety issue.

 
“There’s a lot of folks that are very dependent upon this electricity for breathing apparatuses and various other medical supplies,” he said.

 
Whitaker added that these concerns need to be included in the RMPA/EIS.

 
Rob Paramore later asked, “What happens when the power is gone? What are you going to do about the transmission lines?” He also asked, “At what point do farmers and ranchers become an endangered species?”

 
Suther said the specific action discussed in the RMPA/EIS does not require the burial of the lines. However, she said the document does state that, when the transmission lines come up for renewal, there’s an opportunity to determine whether it’s feasible to use some other method.

 
Fred Flippence, Harney Electric office manager, said Harney Electric has about 63 miles of transmission lines going through sage grouse lek areas that have been identified on the maps.

 
He said, “Our concern is, what happens when that easement comes up? Who is going to bear that cost? Since I’m the finance guy, I can tell you, we’ve invested about $40 million for our total system in Oregon and Nevada. So when somebody says, ‘Well we’re only going to ask you to do maybe $2 million,’ that’s a very large percentage of a $40 million company.”

 
In answer to Flippence’s question regarding who would bear the cost, Suther said, “When the right-of-way applicant comes in, if there are mitigation measures that we determine, then they [the applicants] are the ones that have to bear [the cost].”

 
Submitting comments
An electronic version of the draft RMPA/EIS can be viewed at: www.blm.gov/or/energy/opportunity/sagebrush.php.
Anyone interested in submitting comments may do so electronically by emailing: blm_or_so_gsg_planning_comments@blm.gov. Comments can also be mailed to: BLM-Greater Sage-Grouse DEIS 1220 S.W. 3rd Ave. Portland, OR 97204.

 
Public comments will be accepted until Feb. 20.


 

Tips to prevent spread of germs

 
To slow the spread of flu-like illness in our community, Harney District Hospital (HDH) will implement Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for its visitor policy. These recommendations include:

 
• All visitors must check in at the admitting desk;

 
• Patients may receive visits from immediate family members only;

 
• Those under 18 years of age may not visit patients or staff.

 
Those under 18 years of age are specifically noted simply because they transfer illness more easily than adults. In fact, children are often contagious for a longer period of time and may have no evidence of symptoms.

 
To prevent the spread of viruses at Harney District Hospital, hand-wash stations are available at hospital entrances for use by all who enter the building. In addition, masks will be available for use by patients with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. These masks will decrease the risk that the virus will spread to others.

 
It is important to note that simple actions will prevent the spread of germs that cause illness like influenza. These include:

 
• Getting yourself and family members vaccinated.

 
• Staying home from school or work, and avoiding contact with others if you do become sick with a flu-like illness. Avoiding visit HDH patients while you are ill.

 
• Washing hands often with soap and water.

 
• Covering your coughs and sneezes to prevent the spread of germs.

 
• Avoiding close contact (within six feet) with sick people.

 
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

 
• Cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces at home, work or school.

 
While influenza can cause mild to severe illness, it is important to note that most people with the flu virus will recover without needing medical treatment, and their symptoms will resolve with plenty of fluids and rest.


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