PIT project held in Malheur National Forest

by Steve Howe
Burns Times-Herald

The Passport in Time (PIT) program flag flies, with the archaeological testing site in the background. (Photo by STEVE HOWE)

The Passport in Time (PIT) program flag flies, with the archaeological testing site in the background. (Photo by STEVE HOWE)

Thousands of years ago, people were regularly visiting – and making tools at – an upland Silvies River site in what is now the Malheur National Forest (MNF).

That’s what archaeological surveys and testing, conducted by MNF archaeology staff and volunteers with the Passport in Time (PIT) program, have indicated.

“This beautiful location, nestled among willows and large Ponderosa pine, may have been a customary stop for early inhabitants as they moved within the forest,” said Pete Cadena, district archaeologist on the Emigrant Creek Ranger District of MNF.

Recently, United States Forest Service (USFS) professionals discovered “a relatively old American Indian spear point estimated to be seven to eight thousand years old,” said Don Hann, archaeologist and heritage program manager at MNF.

PIT volunteers helped staff archaeologists complete archaeological testing at the site this past week, Aug. 17-21, and the information learned will contribute to a better understanding of how the local area was used in the past, said Hann.

The PIT program

PIT is a volunteer program through the USFS. Participants can apply for a variety of archaeological and historic preservation projects in locations around the country. Once selected, they spend one week working with USFS officials and learning about the local area and subject matter.

Cadena described PIT as an “extraordinary program,” and he praised work done by volunteers.

Volunteers at MNF are most often retirees and university students. They receive a “passport” and a PIT passport number. Each time the volunteers help on a project, the project leader stamps the volunteers’ passports and documents their hours.

The process

Cadena said there are usually two PIT projects per year on MNF. One involves lab work with previously-collected artifacts, and the other is field work.

Last week’s project was the latter. Ten volunteers and five archaeology technicians participated throughout the five days, uncovering evidence of a prehistoric toolmaking site.

The week began with a general project overview, as well as safety reminders about staying hydrated and taking breaks during the work. Following that, the group spent a few hours conducting an initial survey, which involves walking across the site in a line, scanning the surface for debitage (rock flakes resulting from the manufacture of stone tools) and other artifacts and placing pin flags at those locations.

The survey continues with shovel test probes. Several spots are selected to examine the subsurface content of the site. Each probe is 50 centimeters by 50 centimeters (about 20 inches by 20 inches) square, and is carefully tested. As each test unit is dug further down, the volunteers and technicians carefully examine the upturned soil, looking for debitage or partial or complete tools. The soil is then placed into buckets and hauled over to one-eighth-inch wire mesh sifting screens, where others work to scour the dirt for smaller flakes remaining.

For every 10 centimeters of depth, a report is filed by one of the archaeological technicians. They note on a grid where larger items were found, soil types encountered, and a variety of other information. The process is repeated until they hit “sterile” soil – the point at which they stop finding the artifacts – or the information needed is acquired.

All collected flakes are bagged and labeled. Cadena said the next step is to start typing them. Obsidian flakes make up the majority of what is found on MNF. They are measured and divided into three categories – primary, secondary, and tertiary. These categories indicate the amount of cortex (the original, rough outer surface of the obsidian) present on the flake – from primary with the most to tertiary with none.

Cadena said this categorization indicates what stages in the manufacturing of projectile points were completed on the site. Primary flakes are those that are taken off first when carving a point. Secondary flakes result as the process progresses, and tertiary flakes are the product of the finishing stages.

If there are an even number of flakes found in each category, it can be inferred that people were starting and finishing tools at the site. That appears to be the case at this site, Cadena explained. A wide range of flakes were found.

Volunteer value

Cadena said everything that’s found is archived, and a final report is written. This provides a baseline of information for those wanting to do further research on this site in the future.

“The reality is, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, somebody could utilize this information even more, so the work [done by the PIT project participants] will just keep going for years and years,” he said.

And Cadena would know. He did his graduate research on MNF. He said the site he studied had five or six PIT projects conducted on it, and that data allowed him to formulate his question and pursue his research.

“For a graduate student, that’s pretty awesome, because you usually don’t get all of that support. In this case, I was able to have my own site and look at data – all because of years and years of PIT volunteers’ hard work,” Cadena said.

But it’s not just the professionals who find value in the projects.

Rick and Mary Gant of the Richland, Wash., area are no strangers to the PIT program. But up until now, they had only done historic preservation projects.

“This is our first adventure in archaeology,” said Rick.

He noted that a complete Elko point had been found during the week.

“It’s pretty humbling, when you find something that was created for hunting a couple thousand years ago, and nobody’s seen it since,” he said.

“It’s been very interesting,” Mary said. She added that in the future she’d like to try other archaeology projects looking at different historical periods. In terms of the work tasks, she said she preferred the digging to the sifting, as she didn’t feel as confident in identifying the smaller pieces to pick out.

“I like to learn new things, but I also want to feel like I’m doing something useful,” she said.

Mary, a retired computer programmer, said she and Rick have not only personally enjoyed participating in PIT projects, but see a bigger meaning behind that participation.

“For years, we have backpacked and done a lot on Forest Service lands, and we felt [volunteering with PIT] was a way to kind of give back a little for all the enjoyment we’ve had,” she said.

Jim Goertzen, a retired counselor from St. Helena, Calif., came to this year’s MNF PIT project with 11 archaeology projects already under his belt. He said he has participated in between one and three projects per summer for the last six years since his retirement. Most were located in California, but PIT has also taken him to Nevada and Arizona. He said there weren’t as many projects offered in his home state this year, so he came to Oregon.

“The projects are a lot of fun, and you get to meet a lot of fun people,” Goertzen said.

He added that he’s enjoyed learning about the ingenuity of prehistoric peoples in the manufacturing of stone tools.

“I just have nothing but respect for them,” he said.

Goertzen said he’s always had a strong interest in history, and after retiring, he thought about going back to school. However, he didn’t want to sit in a classroom – he preferred hands-on experiences. So after reading an article about PIT in American Archaeology magazine, he went for it.

“Here I’m surrounded by university-trained people, and I’m getting way more from them than I would in a classroom in six months. In one week’s time, I’m getting more than 40 hours of classroom time, as far as I’m concerned. It’s really good,” said Goertzen.

On Thursday, volunteers took a break and made a trip to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and at the end of the day on Friday, Cadena provided instruction on using an atlatl, or spear-thrower.

This year was special because it marked the 25th anniversary of the PIT program, and volunteers went home with commemorative pins.

Get involved

The PIT program offers a number of opportunities to volunteers. According to its website, this includes: “archaeological survey and excavation, rock art restoration, archival research, historic structure restoration, oral history gathering, and analysis and curation of artifacts.”

For more information, or to apply for any PIT project around the country, visit www.passportintime.com.


Assistance available for planning efforts

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Jim Rue, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) director, and Jon Jinings, DLCD community services specialist, attended the Harney County Court meeting on Thursday, Aug. 20 to discuss Goal 5, a broad statewide planning goal that covers more than a dozen resources, including wildlife habitats, historic places, and aggregate (gravel).

Originally adopted in 1974, Goal 5 and related Oregon Administrative Rules describe how cities and counties are to plan and zone land to conserve resources listed in the goal.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said the court has been discussing whether to complete the Goal 5 process for a while. Although some pieces have been updated, it’s been decades since the county has completed the Goal 5 process entirely.

Grasty said the decision is partially driven by the sage grouse administrative rule that the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) adopted July 24. The rule establishes a procedure for considering development proposals on lands identified as significant sage grouse habitat.

“I think we got the sage grouse administrative rule wrong,” Grasty said. “If there is a reason to do [Goal 5 planning] it’s the potential of advantage for the people who live here.”

Jinings said that, although the county would have to demonstrate that it can provide an equivalent level of sage grouse protection, the Goal 5 process might allow it to “provide those protections in a different way that feels better — feels more right to Harney County.”

Rue agreed that Goal 5 planning could give the county more flexibility.

He said, “If you write it, you write it specific to the county and the needs of the county, which are different from the state, potentially, and are potentially different from adjoining counties.”

However, Rue warned that the county may find Goal 5 planning expensive, labor intensive, and politically difficult.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols asked whether Harney County’s people could be listed as a significant resource in the goal.

Grasty added, “We think people are a significant resource. To protect them, we are going to protect 100 percent of their property. The state rule now says we can only protect 3 percent of their property. The rest is out of bounds.”

He explained that the LCDC rule limits direct impacts from human-caused disturbance to no more than 3 percent of any core area of sage grouse habitat.

Rue replied that this would only apply to uses beyond agriculture and forestry.

However, Nichols explained that many agriculture businesses are required to diversify in order to support their operations.

Rue replied, “As long as there is a direct connection to crops being grown on the land, it’s outright permitted.”

“There is no prohibition on someone making an application for anything,” Jinings added. “There will be things that are harder to justify based on the way the rule operates, but there is a whole menu of things that don’t require consideration at all.”

However, Grasty said he feared that the “conservation community” would litigate some of these decisions.

Additionally, he asked whether habitat mapping could be reevaluated if new studies are conducted.

Jinings said he thought a different mapping arrangement could be considered, but it would have to be backed by substantial evidence and completed by people who have “the right credentials to make those calls.”

He added, “At this point, I don’t think we should take any ideas off the table,” explaining that he’s willing to work with the county to come up with creative solutions.

Rue added that financial and technical assistance would be available for the county to assist with Goal 5 planning.

Grasty said that, if the county decides to engage in the Goal 5 process, it’d focus on more than just sage grouse. He explained that the county’s people, culture and customs would need to be counted among its significant resources.

“Our job is to protect the people in the place, not to protect the birds,” he said.

Grasty concluded that the court will need to decide whether it makes sense to take on the Goal 5 process. And, if so, the court will need to decide how much of the process it can afford to complete.

“You’ve got the hard task of deciding whether or not to pursue [Goal 5],” Rue said.

Grasty thanked Rue and Jinings for working with the court.

•••

The court agreed to appoint new members and ratify current members serving on the Local Community Advisory Council (LCAC).

Subsequently, Grasty mentioned that the county’s public health and home health and hospice programs “have become incredibly expensive,” and the county may want to consider contracting them out to other entities.

“If we keep funding these programs at the level that we are, we will be cutting something else,” he said.

Nichols said, “The community may be happy spending those funds.” However, he added that, “it’s a pretty necessary discussion if the budgetary needs are what they are.”

Grasty said, “I don’t like us even having to have this conversation, but I think we have to.” He added, “If we do this, we have to make sure that we do it strategically and in a manner that makes sense to the community.”

He suggested holding open houses to engage the community in the discussion. He said he’d also like to involve the LCAC and asked to include the conversation on the council’s next meeting agenda.

•••

The court also discussed Intergovernmental Agreement 5119 between Harney County and the state of Oregon for correctional services.

Grasty also complimented Community Corrections Director Lodi Presley for the work she’s doing.

“She’s flat making a difference,” he said.

Grasty said Presley has been looking at options to secure transitional housing for people who’ve been recently released from prison, explaining that the county has been paying for them to stay in hotel rooms, which is not cost effective. Hotel staff have also expressed that they will not house sex offenders.

Grasty said the tenants would have to meet certain stipulations in order to live in the county’s transitional housing. For example, they’d be obligated to keep the house clean and maintained. They’d also have to abstain from drug and alcohol use, among other requirements.

Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels suggested putting some of these people to work at Rimrock Recycling.

“I think that’s a great idea,” Grasty replied, adding that they’d have the opportunity to learn work skills and earn money to pay restitution.

Ultimately, the court agreed to postpone signing the agreement until they can review the document more carefully.

•••

Veterans Service Officer Guy McKay attended the meeting to provide an update on veterans services.

McKay reported that he’s enjoyed working with Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Cameron Smith.

McKay also reported that, last year, he used a portion of program funding to advertise veterans services, and the response was incredible. He garnered more than 100 new clients.

This year, McKay said he’d like to use some program funding to hire a part-time receptionist who can help him manage his appointments, as he hopes to add another 100 clients in the next 18 months.

McKay also announced that veterans will receive free admission to the Harney County Fair, Rodeo and Race Meet on Saturday, Sept. 12.

“You’ve done a great job, and we appreciate it,” Grasty told McKay.

•••

In other business, the court:

• upon recommendation from Harney County Watershed Council (HCWC) Coordinator Karen Moon, appointed Rachel Beaubian, Susan Ramsey and Pat Sharp to the HCWC;

• approved an application from Tree Top Ranches to name a road on their private property Brown Ranch Lane;

• discussed a letter from Harney County Weed Control Supervisor Jim Campbell regarding Medusahead treatments. Grasty said he believed there was plenty of room in the budget to provide the treatments, but said the budget may need to be revisited in the future;

• received a letter from Kimberly Lindsay, Grant County Health Department administrator, stating that Community Counseling Solutions (doing business as Grant County Health Department) decided to terminate its contract with Harney County for drinking water services. Lindsay explained that Ray Huff is retiring Aug. 31, and the department has been unable to recruit and retain certified personnel to replace him. As a result, Grant County will return its drinking water program back to the state. Grasty said Harney County will need to do the same;

• received a letter from Susan Christensen of the Department of Environmental Quality regarding a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event to be held in Burns Oct. 3;

• learned from Grasty that there was a jet fuel spill on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land near Coleman Creek. No one was injured, and a BLM hazmat crew was able to clean up and contain the spill;

• learned from Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella that the Oregon Department of Transportation agreed with the court’s suggestion to set the speed zone on Stanclift Lane from Foley Drive to Eben Ray Lane to 35 mph.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.


Harney County Dollars for Scholars would like to announce fall scholarships available for Harney County students who have completed at least one year of college.

The scholarships available are as follows:

• The Alycia Jenkins Memorial Ag Scholarship, started with a donation from Wilbur-Ellis Company. Founded in 1921, Wilbur Ellis is a leading international marketer and distributor of agricultural products, animal feed and specialty chemicals and ingredients. This scholarship is for students majoring in agriculture.

• Richard Hotchkiss Memorial Scholarship for agriculture students who have attained at least junior  status.

• Marion Lashbaugh Memorial Scholarship for female students attending Oregon State University.

• Helen Figg Memorial Scholarship for students majoring in school counseling or teaching.

• Olive Bridge Fund Scholarship for teaching majors or majors in the health sciences.

• Harney County Dollars for Scholars scholarships are available for all majors.

The deadline for applying for these scholarships is Sept. 30, 2015.

To complete an application, students need to access the Dollars for Scholars website and complete an online profile to see if they are eligible. The website may be accessed by searching for Harney County Dollars for Scholars, and selecting the “Students and Parents” tab.

If students have questions or are having difficulty with the website, please call Debbie at 541-573-3956 or email darntz@centurytel.net.


City’s lien on bowling alley property discussed 

by Steve Howe
Burns Times-Herald

A discussion of whether the city of Burns should “opt out” of allowing certain types of marijuana businesses was a main agenda item at the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Burns City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The council heard from the city’s attorney, Jeremy Green, about two bills signed into law this summer pertaining to marijuana sales in the state.

Green, telephoning in to the meeting, first explained Oregon House Bill 3400 (HB 3400), and the modifications it makes to Measure 91 (the 2014 ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana in the state).

HB 3400 was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown on June 30. It contains a “local option” that allows county and city governments, in counties where no less than 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, the right to adopt ordinances prohibiting any one (or more) of the six categories of state-licensed or registered marijuana business. These businesses include medical marijuana processors, medical marijuana dispensaries, retail marijuana producers, retail marijuana processors, retail marijuana wholesalers, and retail marijuana retailers. The opt out ordinance must be adopted no later that 180 days after the effective date of the act (Dec. 27, 2015).

Green noted that Harney County voted against Measure 91 by more than 65 percent, so the city council could pursue the ordinance if so desired. He reminded the council that such an ordinance would not address marijuana growers (growing for personal or medical cardholder use), or the personal use of marijuana.

Green then explained Oregon Senate Bill 460 (SB 460), which was signed into law on July 28. SB 460 authorizes early sales of recreational marijuana by medical marijuana dispensaries. From Oct. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2016, medical marijuana dispensaries may sell “limited marijuana retail product” to anyone 21 years of age or older. This includes marijuana seeds, dried marijuana leaves and flowers, and marijuana plants that are not flowering.

Pursuant to Section 2 of SB 460, a city may adopt an ordinance prohibiting these early sales of limited marijuana retail product by medical marijuana dispensaries, with no requirement for referral to a general election. The prohibiting ordinance must be adopted prior to Oct. 1.

Councilor Terri Presley asked Green who would be overseeing marijuana sales? Green said the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) will monitor recreational marijuana sales, and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) controls medical marijuana.

Councilor Dan Hoke asked what considerations should be made with regard to opting out, other than not being able to collect taxes?

Green said that because growers are not included in the prohibition ordinance, additional regulations on that activity could be considered, although they may face legal challenge.

Presley asked if the city could pick which categories of marijuana business to opt out of with the ordinance? Green replied, yes, the city could choose to ban any number or all of them.

The consensus of the council was to have Green draft an ordinance and to discuss it at the next council meeting on Aug. 26, and then to hold a vote in September.

During public comment,  Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick stated support for an opt out ordinance:

“I think it’s important to address the total ban option we have. I’m glad it was brought up…I think it’s important that this particular council address it like you’re doing.”

Kim Rollins said the economic issues need to be considered. He noted that marijuana will still be legal in Oregon even if the city adopts a ban on the businesses, and people will go elsewhere to spend their money. He also said that taxes from marijuana could help support mental health and substance abuse programs.

“I also think it’s important to address what has been brought before you. I think it’s also very important that you not overlook the things that are not being discussed – one being the economic situation in Harney County,” said Rollins. He added, “By 2018, the legal marijuana business in the United States will be at $10 billion. Why would these cities or this county pass up that money?”

•••

Regarding the medical marijuana dispensary currently operating in Burns, Green stated:

“As of now, you should know that despite our efforts for the past three or four months, we still do not have a completed application for our existing [medical marijuana] dispensary operator. We have given this dispensary operator multiple opportunities to comply.”

He said the operator has paid the application fee, but the application remains incomplete.

“It may ultimately result in pulling the plug on the business,” Green added.

He said that if the prohibiting ordinance is adopted, it will either result in revocation of the dispensary’s right to operate, or it may be grandfathered in. If it is the latter, the dispensary would still be subject to the time, place and manner restrictions that the city has already imposed, and no other dispensaries would be allowed to be located within the limits of the city.

Green said because of legal implications, he would want to discuss further details in an executive session.

The council agreed to schedule an executive session with Green prior to the next regularly-scheduled council meeting on Aug. 26.

•••

Green also addressed the topic of city’s lien on the former bowling alley property.

He said it is up to the city to decide if they want to pursue the foreclosure lien on the property. The city has held a junior lien on it since 2009. The senior lien holder foreclosed in the spring of 2013, but failed to provide proper notice of the foreclosure proceedings, Green said. Therefore, the city can challenge those proceedings by initiating its own. He said that it could be done through the city ordinance, through a statutory process, or through a judicial process.

Mayor Craig LaFollette said he would like more information on the legal costs and risks of pursuing the lien.

Green said his law partner, Mark Reinecke (who had been involved in the issue previously), would produce a memorandum that summarizes the issues and identifies the risks of pursuing the various options for the next meeting.

•••

Burns Fire Department Chief Scott Williamson announced that the department had received a grant  in the amount of $9,988 from the Oregon Volunteer Firefighters Association to purchase a variety of equipment and gear.

LaFollette took the opportunity to recognize Williamson’s achievement of the title of Company Inspector on the Oregon Fire and Life Safety Competency Recognition levels. He presented him with a certificate from the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal. A company inspector “performs basic fire safety inspections in one and two story business and mercantile occupancies with no high-piled or rack storage.”

“It allows me to go in and work with business owners to make sure their establishments are safe for the public,” said Williamson. He added that he is continuing to work up through the levels.

“My goal is to eventually get to the fourth level, which is ‘Fire Marshal’,” said Williamson.

LaFollette thanked him for his hard work.

•••

City Manager (CM) Dauna Wensenk reported that the airport taxiway rehabilitation project bid came in unexpectedly high, and that there would be a re-bid in November. She said she has talked to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about possible grant monies.

CM Wensenk also reported that Betsy Johnson, Oregon state senator from the 16th district, flew in to Burns Tuesday for a visit, and she gave her a tour of the city.

•••

Public Works Director Dave Cullens introduced Pedro Zabala, who will be replacing him starting Sept. 1. He reported that they have been busy clearing brush.

•••

In other business, the council:

• approved Resolution No. 15-612, accepting certain identified revenues from the Harney County Circuit Court for additional overtime from a recent court trial to be added back to a budget line for that officer;

• approved resolution No. 15-613, authorizing the second payment on the loan from the LID fund to the water/sewer fund to cover the city’s portion of the Burns Municipal Airport fire suppression project;

• heard from Councilor Dan Hoke regarding the Burns Cemetery. The cemetery manager has been ill and unable to work. The cemetery committee will be working to keep up on maintenance. Hoke said that any help from the community would be welcomed. To volunteer, please contact Dick Day at 541-573-7481.

The next meeting of the Burns City Council will be held Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m. at Burns City Hall.


Michael Robinson was last seen on July 29

On Aug. 4, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office responded to a report of a vehicle that was parked along Highway 20 mile marker 102 near Riley.

After the deputy conducted a vehicle registration check, it returned to a missing person from Bend. After contacting Bend Police Department, they advised that a Michael Robinson, 23, was missing. The last known contact was on July 29. Robinson is said to have a black lab with him that goes by the name “Charlie.” Charlie is said to be wearing a maroon collar and an American flag bandana.

The Harney County Sheriff’s Office did a foot search near the vehicle on Aug. 4, but nothing suggested the whereabouts of Robinson. The next day, Aug. 5, the Harney County Search and Rescue deployed two Polaris Rangers and four personnel which conducted a wider search of the surrounding area. Again, nothing was located to suggest the whereabouts of Robinson. On Aug. 7, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office conducted an aerial search of the area and again, nothing suggested the whereabouts of Robinson.

Robinson is described as six feet tall, 160 pounds, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Last clothing description was described as a white t-shirt and blue jeans. The Harney County Sheriff’s Office is asking if seen, please call the Harney County Sheriff’s Office at 541-573-6028 or Bend Police Department at 541-322-2960.


Theft at Riley Store investigated

Posted on August 19th in News

Any information should be reported to Sheriff’s Office

On Aug. 6, the Harney County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into a theft complaint at the Riley Store. The investigation yielded the following description: a single black male, in his early to mid-20s, approximately 5’5” to 5’8”, 140-to-150 pounds, with no shirt and wearing green BDU style pants. The suspect was driving a silver or light blue 4-door sedan. A temporary sticker was in the driver’s side rear window. No plates were visible. The vehicle was said to be smoking and possibly in poor mechanical shape. The vehicle may have left heading west on Highway 20.

Any information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect or the vehicle should be directed to the Harney County Sheriff’s Office at 541-573-6156.


Speed zone on Stanclift Lane discussed

by Steve Howe
Burns Times-Herald

During the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court held Wednesday, Aug. 5, the court heard from Brenda Smith, executive director of the High Desert Partnership.

Smith gave a presentation on the 2015 High Desert Youth Range Camp, held June 17-20 at the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range near Riley. Twenty-four high school student participants from around the region learned about soils, plants, and wildlife, among other things, and were able to talk with ranchers and range and wildlife scientists.

Smith said that numerous positive comments were received, and she thanked the court for the two scholarships that the county funded. She also reported that one of the Harney County participants, Tyler Thomas, was named “top camper.” Thomas will attend the Society for Range Management High School Youth Forum at the annual conference in February 2016, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols praised the program:

“It’s an excellent program. It brings these young people into our community so they start to see the value of rangelands, which is one of the last remaining resource values we have,” he said.

•••

Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella and the court discussed the results of a speed zone investigation that had been conducted on Stanclift Lane from Foley Drive to Eben Ray Lane by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). ODOT recommended that the speed be set at 40 mph. The court concluded that 35 mph would be safer for the area, and it was agreed that Drushella would respond to ODOT with justifications for this speed recommendation, and report back at the next meeting.

•••

The court heard from Nichols and Karen Moon, Harney County Watershed Council coordinator, regarding the water rights rulemaking process going on relative to the Harney Basin.

Nichols reported that the local advisory committee had held its second meeting. He commented that the whole process was too hurried, and that there hasn’t been enough time to review information.

Nichols added that they want to keep the focus on the administrative rule amendments that have been proposed, and also to get more people and organizations involved collaboratively in the process. He presented the court with a map of the Harney Basin/Greater Harney Valley Area from the Oregon Water Resources Department, and it was discussed.

•••

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty gave a brief update on sage grouse news.

He said the two administrative rules pertaining to development in sage grouse habitat from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) and the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) are now in place. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is expected to determine whether sage grouse should be proposed for an Endangered Species Act listing or removed from the candidate list in September 2015.

“We put in comments on everything that we could on the federal level, so now it’s wait and see what happens in September,” said Grasty.

•••

Grasty briefly discussed the Decision Notice, Finding of No Significant Impact, and Forest Plan Amendment No. 79 for the Wolf Vegetation Management Project Environmental Assessment. The document was made available for the commissioners to review.

•••

In other business, the court:

• approved the appointment of Lisa Howe to the Harney County Library Advisory Board, with a term to expire June 30, 2019;

• reviewed correspondence from the Bureau of Land Management, Burns District – an Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Record for the South Steens Herd Management Area Population Management Plan;

• reviewed correspondence from Shana Withee, county leader for 4-H youth development and family community health, requesting $2,000 for the Harney County 4-H Camp;

• reviewed correspondence from the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, regarding the distribution of funds to counties;

• briefly discussed the August 2015 Employment Department Labor Trends report;

• reviewed and signed the 2015 Fund Exchange Agreement between Harney County and ODOT;

• reviewed water use requests;

• agreed by consensus to reschedule the next county court meeting to Thursday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.


 

 

 

A lightning-caused fire located approximately six miles southeast of Crane (in the Alder Creek area) was quickly doused Tuesday by two large air tankers out of Redmond, one DC-10 air tanker out of Moses Lake, Wash., seven single-engine air tankers, two helicopters, two bulldozers, two water tenders, and several fire engines. The fire was most active to the southeast and was pushing up to Crane-Venator Road, but was held on that border throughout the evening. The total burned was approximately 1,045 acres. (Photo by JEFF GRAHAM)

A lightning-caused fire located approximately six miles southeast of Crane (in the Alder Creek area) was quickly doused Tuesday by two large air tankers out of Redmond, one DC-10 air tanker out of Moses Lake, Wash., seven single-engine air tankers, two helicopters, two bulldozers, two water tenders, and several fire engines. The fire was most active to the southeast and was pushing up to Crane-Venator Road, but was held on that border throughout the evening. The total burned was approximately 1,045 acres. (Photo by JEFF GRAHAM)


The Oregon National Guard is scheduled to hold a number of public meetings around the state to showcase proposed changes to training areas currently utilized by the Oregon Air National Guard.

The meetings are part of the public hearing process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulatory guidance.

The changes to the training areas will provide adequately sized and configured airspace within close proximity to Oregon Air National Guard flying units to support advanced 21st-century air-to-air tactical fighter technologies and training mission requirements.

According to Oregon Air National Guard Lt. Col. Alaric Michaelis, the airspace is needed to fulfill the missions of both of Oregon’s fighter wings; the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, and the 173rd Fighter Wing at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls.

“This training airspace will help us produce the best air-to-air combat pilots, and serve our state and nation in times of peace and war,” Michaelis said. “It also serves the mission of the 142nd Fighter Wing, as it provides unequaled, mission-ready aerospace superiority.”

The proposed changes include modifications and additions to military training airspace located over northwestern, north-central and south-central Oregon and the Pacific Ocean. In addition, minor portions of the proposed action would be located above a small area of northwestern Nevada and the southwestern-most corner of Washington.

The changes apply only to the airspace, and not the ground or water under the training area borders.

The Portland unit is responsible for the Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) mission, which extends from the Canadian border to northern California and comprises the entire states of Oregon and Washington, out into the Pacific ocean. The Klamath Falls unit is the only F-15 training school in the entire Air Force, training pilots from the Air Force, Reserve and Air National Guard.

Meetings are scheduled for various locations and dates, including Aug. 15, 2 p.m.-5 p.m.,  at the Harney County Community Center, 484 N. Broadway Ave., Burns.

For more details on the proposed changes to the training areas, please visit http://www.142fw.ang.af.mil/ or http://www.173fw.ang.af.mil.


by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Sage Grouse MapThe Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) adopted amended administrative rules that will require mitigation actions to offset impacts of large-scale and other developments on sage grouse habitat.

Public hearings were held in Harney County prior to the adoption of the rules, and numerous community members and stakeholders offered extensive public testimony. Many of those who commented during the hearings urged ODFW and LCDC not to adopt the rules.

Background

After receiving multiple petitions to list sage grouse under the federal endangered species act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined in April 2010 that protecting the species was warranted, but decided to focus on species that were facing greater risk of extinction first. However, the decision will soon be revisited, as USFWS is expected to determine whether sage grouse should be proposed for an ESA listing or removed from the candidate list in September 2015.

SageCon Coordinator Jamie Damon said the USFWS basically has three choices: not to list the species, list the species without exceptions, or list the species with exceptions in states that have developed their own plans.

The administrative rules of ODFW and LCDC, which work together to address the lack of regulatory certainty in protecting sage grouse habitat (one of the identified threats to the species), are part of a larger state action plan that will be presented to the USFWS in an effort to avoid the listing in Oregon. Other threats will be addressed in the state action plan, as well.

ODFW rules

Part of the Oregon Administrative Rules, the Greater Sage-Grouse Conservation Strategy for Oregon establishes ODFW’s policy for the protection and enhancement of sage grouse in Oregon and declares that sage grouse must be managed statewide to maintain or enhance their abundance and distribution at the 2003 spring breeding population level (approximately 30,000 birds during the next 50 years.)

The rules also outline ODFW’s habitat management goals, which include avoiding or limiting the extent, location, and negative impacts of development actions over time within sage grouse core, low-density, and general habitats.

“Development actions” are defined as any human-caused activities subject to regulation by local, state, or federal agencies that could result in the loss of significant sage grouse habitat.

“Core areas” are mapped sagebrush types or other habitats that meet all life history needs necessary to conserve 90 percent of Oregon’s sage grouse population. They contain very high, high, and moderate lek density. A lek is an area where male sage grouse display during the breeding season to attract females. In Oregon, core areas are also called Priority Areas for Conservation (PACs).

“Low-density” areas contain low lek density, but provide breeding, summer and migratory habitat. “General habitat” is occupied (seasonal or year-round) habitat outside of core and low-density habitats.

Core area approach 

In core areas, the goal is to limit direct impacts from human-caused disturbance to no more than 3 percent of any PAC and at a rate of less than 1 percent during a 10-year period.

Thus, a PAC/core area that’s comprised of 100,000 acres would only be eligible for 1,000 acres of large-scale development in a 10-year period and 3,000 acres overall. The percentages will be counted across the PACs/core areas regardless of land ownership.

ODFW will develop and maintain maps that identify core and low-density habitats using aerial imagery, local knowledge of sage grouse and sage grouse habitat, best available science, and county governing bodies (or their designees) to provide input regarding changes to local land use.

Mitigation hierarchy

The rules also state that developers must mitigate adverse impacts (both direct and indirect) to sage grouse and their habitats in core, low-density, and general habitat. “Direct impacts” are adverse effects upon significant sage grouse habitat that are close to the development action in time and place, while “indirect impacts” occur later in time or are removed in distance.

Mitigation is comprised, in hierarchal order, of avoidance, minimization, and compensatory mitigation.

Avoidance is the first step in the mitigation hierarchy, and it’s accomplished by not taking a certain development action or parts of that action. Avoidance tests are used to determine whether the proposed development can occur in another location. Avoidance requirements are strictest for core habitat and least strict for general habitat.

If the permitting entity determines that a proposed development action can’t be moved, the next step will be to minimize the direct and indirect impacts. Minimization is accomplished by limiting the degree or magnitude of a development action and its implementation.

If avoidance and minimization efforts have been exhausted, compensatory mitigation will be used to replace the lost functionality of the impacted habitat to a level capable of supporting an even greater number of sage grouse.

The mitigation hierarchy is required for both direct and indirect impacts when the proposed development action requires a county permit, meets the LCDC definition of large-scale development, and would impact core and low-density habitat (or general habitat that’s within 3.1 miles of a lek in a manner that would reduce functional sage grouse habitat or sage grouse use of that habitat).

LCDC defines “large-scale development” as uses that are either over 50 feet in height, have a direct impact in excess of five acres, generate more than 50 vehicle trips per day, or create noise levels of at least 70 decibels at zero meters for sustained periods of time.

If the use requires a county permit but doesn’t fit the LCDC definition of “large-scale development,” ODFW will determine whether to require mitigation for proposed development actions that are within 4 miles of a lek in core habitat or 3.1 miles of a lek in low-density or general habitat. If it’s required, the appropriate level of mitigation will be based on the nature of the impact and the risk to sage grouse.

Public comment

A public hearing regarding the ODFW administrative rules was held Wednesday, July 22 at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center in Burns. Damon and Alan “Chip” Dale, ODFW High Desert Region manager, provided an overview of the rules before accepting questions and comments from the audience.

Jerry Miller, a rancher from Crane, asked why the focus has been on preserving sage grouse habitat, instead of addressing their predators.

Dale replied that the people who petitioned for the sage grouse listing identified habitat impacts as one of the threats to the species.

He said, “We know that predators are an issue, but in order to deal with the criteria put forward for the listing, we had to deal with the habitat component of it first.”

Brett Brownscombe, ODFW acting deputy director for fish and wildlife programs, added that predation is addressed in the state action plan.

However, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty discouraged single-species management and making decisions under the threat of a listing.

Another audience member asked why the ODFW rules were necessary, considering that many landowners have voluntarily entered into Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) programs.

CCAAs are formal agreements between landowners and the USFWS to address the conservation needs of a proposed or candidate species before it’s listed. Landowners voluntarily commit to conservation actions that will help stabilize or restore the species in an effort to prevent the listing.

Brownscombe said the rules are not meant to detract from CCAAs, but to fill in regulatory gaps regarding large-scale development.

Grasty encouraged ODFW (and later LCDC) to boldly state that CCAA members will be exempt from these rules.

Marty Suter-Goold asked how lek attendance was being calculated and by whom.

Brownscombe and Dale explained that lek attendance was calculated by ODFW biologists.

Suter-Goold asked whether the rules apply to abandoned leks, and Dale replied that they apply to any mapped leks.

Another audience member questioned the integrity of the data that’s being used.

“We’re not claiming to have it perfect,” Brownscombe replied. “There may be areas within core areas that are not core.”

However, he added that ODFW has made a “clear commitment” to work with counties and planning commissions to revisit the data every five years.

Andrew Shields, wildlife biologist at Roaring Springs Ranch, said the 3 percent disturbance cap was based on data that isn’t applicable to Oregon, and he urged ODFW (and later LCDC) to analyze Oregon’s leks to gather more applicable data.

Grasty agreed, stating, “If we are going to do disturbance calculation, I want to now exactly what it is and how it’s done.”

Shields also asked whether the public was engaged in mapping areas of high population richness (mapped areas of breeding and nesting habitat within core habitat that support the 75th percentile of breeding bird densities). Brownscombe replied that the rules advisory committee (RAC) was involved in this process.

But Grasty said he saw the areas of high population richness map for the first time that day, and there’s no way to verify it or understand what it means.

“When you set a map or change a map, I want that going through the county,” Grasty said, explaining that county officials need this information in order to keep local landowners apprised of changes that could affect their properties.

Brent Beverly, operations manager of Harney Electric Cooperative Inc., said he didn’t see how ODFW intends to increase sage grouse numbers “other than tying up habitat.” He added that one way to increase the population would be to ban sage grouse hunting.

Grasty agreed with Beverly, asserting that ODFW should focus more on increasing sage grouse populations and less on preserving habitat. He added that the department lost its focus on core and is now talking about all sage grouse habitat, which consumes most of Harney County. He also expressed concern about how mitigation planning will be enforced, explaining that additional money, resource and staff will be needed.

Fred Flippence said he’s been trying to help bring development and jobs to Harney County for the last 15 years and asked whether ODFW had a map showing how much commercial development occurred when sage grouse populations declined. Flippence also asked why wildfires, which destroy sage grouse habitat, are not included on ODFW’s maps.

“We are not keepers of that data,” Dale replied.

Grasty said government agencies need to stop saying, “It’s not my job.” He added that protecting sage grouse habitat is not his job, but it’s occupied his time for the last several years.

He also commented both ODFW and LCDC’s fiscal impact statements, which are required by statute, are “to say the least, laughable.” He said, “Nothing in [these rules] talks about how we help the economy and help communities.”

Grasty concluded by urging ODFW (and later LCDC) to postpone adoption of the rules.

Brownscombe said he would take the testimony to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to be heard prior to the rules’ adoption.

ODFW decision

The Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted amended administrative rules for sage grouse management in Oregon at its meeting in Salem Monday, July 27.

LCDC rule

LCDC took on the task of adopting amendments to Oregon Administrative Rule 660-023-0115. LCDC’s proposed amendments were developed in coordination with the aforementioned ODFW amendments and use nearly all of the same definitions. The LCDC rule (which applies to portions of Harney, Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Lake, Malheur, and Union counties) establishes a procedure for considering development proposals on lands identified as significant sage grouse habitat.

Significant habitat consists of core areas, low density areas, and general habitat within 3.1 miles of an occupied or occupied-pending lek when those lands are planned and zoned for exclusive farm use. An “occupied lek” is a lek that has been regularly visited by ODFW and has had one or more male sage grouse counted in one or more of the last seven years. An “occupied-pending lek” is a lek that has not been counted regularly by ODFW in the last seven years, but sage grouse were present at ODFW’s last visit. The exact location of a sage grouse habitat may be refined during consideration of a specific project, but it must be done through consultation with ODFW.

Activities that do not require government approval, including farm use as defined in Oregon Revised Statute 215.203 (2), are exempt from the rule. State agency permits necessary to facilitate a farm use, including new water right permits, are also exempt from this rule. Jon Jinings, community services specialist with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, said farm dwellings will also be exempted from this rule.

Additionally, any energy facility that submitted a preliminary application for site certificate on or before the effective date of this rule is exempt from its provisions.

Uses identified in CCAA agreements are also relieved from the provisions of this rule. However, conflicting uses will be subject to the rule’s regulations in all instances, regardless of enrollment status.

“Conflicting uses” are large-scale developments (and other activities that require review by county decision makers) that are proposed within 4 miles of an occupied or occupied-pending lek in core area or 3.1 miles of an occupied or occupied-pending lek in low-density or general habitat.

The rule states that, prior to accepting an application for a conflicting use in significant sage grouse habitat, a county should convene a pre-application conference with the applicant, county planning staff, and local ODFW staff. A county may consider a large-scale development in a core area upon applying disturbance thresholds (no more than 3 percent of any total core area and less than 1 percent during a 10-year period) and following the mitigation hierarchy, as specified. A county may also approve a conflicting use in core habitat after receiving confirmation from ODFW that the proposed use doesn’t pose a threat to significant sage grouse habitat or sage grouse use of that habitat, or by conditioning approval based on ODFW recommendations.

A county may approve a large-scale development in low-density habitat upon applying the mitigation hierarchy, as specified. In general habitat, county approval is contingent upon a consultation between the development proponent and ODFW and compensatory mitigation.

The rule also allows a county to approve a large-scale development that doesn’t meet the avoidance test if the county determines that the overall public benefits outweigh the damage to significant sage grouse habitat. However, requirements for minimization and compensatory mitigation continue to apply, and areas of high population richness should be avoided whenever possible. The proposed development must also provide a number of permanent, full-time jobs (not including construction activities) that pay at least 150 percent of average county wages. Each effected county will only be able to exercise this provision once during a 10-year period.

Local governments will have the opportunity to develop their own sage grouse programs, but the LCDC must determine that they comply with, and equivalent to, the rule with regard to protecting sage grouse habitat.

LCDC hearing

A two-day public hearing was held July 23-24 at the Harney County Community Center in Burns. The LCDC began receiving public comment after Damon and Jinings explained the rule and provided some background information.

Grasty asserted that human development has not been the problem in Harney County.

“The reason this place is so open, looks so good, and we have so much habitat is because of the folks behind me,” he said, indicating the local community members who came to testify. “They live on it everyday and take care of it, and they are going to be punished everyday if we are not careful.”

William J. Mulder submitted a letter on behalf of Tree Top Ranches LP that expressed a similar sentiment.

The last paragraph of the letter reads, “With all due respect, the proposed rule is disingenuous and fails totally to meet any measure of meaningful sage grouse protection. It is the very essence of a lose-lose scenario. If the [LCDC] sincerely desires to accomplish something for the greater sage grouse, we politely suggest you get away from the alphabet agencies and special interest groups and come out and talk with our neighbors who live on and truly care about these lands.”

Carol Dunten, chair of the Harney County Soil and Water Conservation District, said she owns a ranch in Drewsey that’s in a PAC/core area. Her property is also considered an area of high population richness.

“They say we have 90 percent of the birds in our PACs,” she said. “Maybe we are doing something right if we have 90 percent of the birds, but it seems like we have more regulations from all of the agencies.” She added, “These rules impact my livelihood and legacy. This is my 401(k). All we have is our ranch.”

Grasty stated the rule would take development rights away from Harney County, which is one of the most economically-disadvantaged counties in the state. He added that locking up 97 percent of the land is “not a good solution,” and it sends a message that, “Oregon is not open for business.” He also asked how the LCDC rule would be better than the regulations of an ESA listing, stating that, “Many have said this is worse.”

Rep. Cliff Bentz said, “ We need to hear why these rules are so much better than the listing. These rules sadly go a long way toward freezing this part of the world in place. Don’t take one third of Oregon off the economic table. Don’t do it. Our state is not rich enough to throw away assets.”

Grasty said some PACs/core areas span county lines and questioned how the 3 percent disturbance cap would be distributed.

He asked, “Are you going to let ODFW define an area and then put two or more counties into debate about who’s gong to to use the little bit of development that’s left?”

Bentz said it’s “super important” to get the mitigation piece right because it’s the only path for allowing development in significant sage grouse habitat.

Grasty added, “I think it’s time to say, ‘No!’ I think you [should] back up and do this right.”

However, representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Habitat Joint Venture, and Oregon Natural Desert Association encouraged LCDC to adopt the rule, asserting that the regulations will benefit sage grouse, while continuing to allow development.

But Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, wrote a letter to the LCDC stating that the rules are “insufficient to ensure adequate protection for sage grouse and to provide the regulatory certainty required to avoid listing under the Endangered Species Act.” He argued that, instead of having the option of developing their own sage grouse programs, counties should be required to adopt the rule verbatim and without modification. He also stated that the Audubon Society doesn’t support exclusions for farm and ranch uses, and this development should be counted toward the established thresholds. Sallinger also asked that small-scale development be counted toward the thresholds and that LCDC nix the provision that allows for one especially unique local economic activity every decade. He also called for removal of the exclusion for energy facilities that have submitted applications for site certifications.

To the contrary, Todd Adams, engineering project leader for Idaho Power, wrote a letter in support of the energy facility exclusion. He explained that Idaho Power has an application pending for construction and maintenance of the Boardman to Hemingway transmission line project (B2H Project), which crosses about 298 miles of Eastern Oregon, including sage grouse habitat in Baker and Malheur counties. He added that Idaho Power began the B2H Project permitting process about eight years ago, and nearly 1,000 stakeholders have been consulted and 50 different routes in 11 different counties considered. The company has also invested tens of millions of dollars and many years in developing a project location and design that will avoid impacts to sage grouse habitat and minimize unavoidable impacts.

The CCAA exemption was also discussed during the hearing. Jinings said it’s an “expression of support” for the voluntary effort. However, Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett asserted that it’s “kind of a feel good thing,” adding that it won’t make a difference in the final analysis.

Shields encouraged the LCDC to remove the section stating that conflicting uses will be subject to the rule in all instances regardless of CCAA enrollment status. He explained that people enrolled in CCAAs are subject to a “no net loss mitigation plan,” and the CCAA will become void if habitat fragmentation occurs.

Regarding Shields’ proposal, LCDC Commissioner Sherman Lamb said, “I think it would be risky for us to base our rule on agreements that we haven’t even seen.” He added that he’d heard “pretty good testimony” about CCAAs, but thought the rule’s language concerning CCAAs should remain unchanged. The other members of the commission agreed.

LCDC decision

After extensive discussion and serval hours of public testimony, the LCDC unanimously agreed to adopt the rule on Friday, July 24, and it became directly applicable to local decisions on its effective date. The LCDC will review the rule no later than June 30, 2020. Also, should the sage grouse become listed, the commission must consider whether the rule is necessary. The necessity of the rule will also be considered if sage grouse become delisted.


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