ENTERPRISE — A strongly worded letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., opposing his proposed River Democracy Act was approved by the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Wednesday, Oct. 6.
“We disagree with adding designations in a county that already has 58% of its land mass in public ownership. Our rivers flow freely out of the Eagle Cap and Wenaha wildernesses and are not at risk of degradation like rivers in populated areas with industrial impact. Our logging, ranching and farming activities — the backbone of our economy — are all well-regulated via state and federal laws,” the letter stated, as read by Commissioner Susan Roberts.
“The act would further burden our already-beleaguered and understaffed U.S. Forest Service Wallowa Mountains Office that cannot keep up with the planning and implementation necessary to maintain forest health, reduce hazardous fuels and encourage the growth of old and large trees.”
The letter stated that the act promises reductions in these areas, but gives no “clear language” for forest restoration.
The letter also emphasized many private landowners and agencies that partner with the county by investing millions of dollars in habitat restoration for fish, wildlife and the ecology.
“The Wallowa County Nez Perce Tribe Salmon Recovery Plan, written in 1993 and now under revision, directs best-management practices in the county’s valuable watersheds.”
All these factors leave the watersheds “healthy and viable,” the letter stated.
Also noted were that more than 300 miles of Wallowa County rivers already are protected under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the addition of 404 river miles included in Wyden’s act have the “outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values” required in the original act.
The commissioners’ letter also expressed disagreement with “circumventing provisions” of the federal act that authorizes the feds to study and analyze waterways under consideration for inclusion in the federal act.
This isn’t the first action the commissioners have taken against Wyden’s bill. In July, they passed a resolution to oppose the legislation.
County left out
The letter not only expressed disapproval of Wyden’s act, but of the way the county was excluded from consultation in the formation of the act.
“The maps your office provided were not clear so the county went to the expense of having maps made that included half-mile buffers. These maps gave a visual of the buffers, affecting economic viability for our timber and grazing economies, public access and forest management on an estimated 240,000 acres of public lands and 16,000 acres of adjacent private land in Wallowa County.”
Roberts said she and her fellow commissioners were frustrated at the failure of Wyden to include the county in the process of drawing up the act — and didn’t even learn of it directly from Wyden or his staff.
“Despite a long-running relationship with your office, we became aware of the act through a letter addressed to the Association of Oregon Counties,” the letter stated. “We are disappointed that the board of commissioners and landowners were not directly involved in the crafting of this proposal.”
Roberts said after the meeting that Wyden’s staff had spent much time in Northeast Oregon prior to crafting of the act.
“They were here all the time until the last two years when this started and we haven’t even seen them at all,” she said.
Then, she said, when confronted about neglecting the county, Wyden staffers said it was the commissioners’ fault.
“They said it would never happen again,” Roberts said. “My opinion is they took this route on purpose.”
The letter concluded by requesting the exclusion of all Wallowa County waterways in Wyden’s proposed act.
After the letter was approved, Commissioner Todd Nash suggested finding ways for “more robust participation” in opposing Wyden’s bill and asked his fellow commissioners to consider ways to do that, such as a possible public meeting at Cloverleaf Hall.
“I don’t think we’ll get participation from our good senator,” the commissioner said.
Minam River Phase 2
The commissioners approved another letter regarding natural resources, this one in support of the inclusion of the Minam River Phase 2 to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Roberts said after the meeting the plan adds 10,964 acres to Minam River Wildlife Area, which is adjacent to the 2.5 million acres in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Eagle Cap Wilderness.
The only concern was a verbal memorandum of understanding between the county and the ODFW governing the change.
In reading the letter, Roberts said, “This should be guided by a memorandum of understanding on continued timber production, grazing, property tax payments, noxious weed control, hunting and public access. The protection of high-functioning aquatic habitat and terrestrial habitat will contribute to climate change resiliency. The significance of this project and the broad range of support it has cannot be overstated.
“The opportunity to protect such a large swath of land strategically located between wild and scenic rivers and wilderness area and scenic byways does not come along very often. Your support for the project is greatly appreciated.”
Nash said the letter doesn’t need to be sent immediately, and action remains to be taken before the county is fully on board.
“The MOU has been stated verbally and they thought that they could do that … we’ll have to keep a keen eye on that and communicate with them to make sure that commitment is fulfilled,” he said.
In moving to accept the letter, Commissioner John Hillock said, “This is a good project that we’re able to be involved in.”
The commissioners also approved a personal service contract between the county and Lisa Mahon for the Wallowa County Smoke Management Community Response Plan and the Wallowa County Natural Resource Advisory Committee contractor. They also approved a request from Mahon for formally subcontract Sarah Silbernagel to work on the two plans and other projects as assigned.
In other actions, the commissioners approved:
• A letter requesting comments on reseeding lands damaged by the Elbow Creek Fire this summer.
• An easement for Ziply Fiber Northwest to place a fiber cable in an existing conduit under Edgewater Road.
• A petition to vacate a portion of Clearlake Road, with Nash’s abstention because of a potential conflict of interest. Roberts said the matter would be passed onto the county’s road manager.
• A contribution of $1,000 toward the Vietnam War Memorial to be built on the grounds of the Oregon Capitol in Salem. Roberts said $3 million is needed to be raised by October 2022. Nash called it a “nice gesture” of support to the many Vietnam veterans living in the county.
In personnel actions, the commissioners approved:
• An increase in weekly hours for Ken Hall in the Building Codes Department.
• Wacey Seufer as a new hire in the Custodial Department.
• A correction in step with retroactive pay for Jennifer Harmon of the Parole and Probation Department.
• Anthony Boyd, Annarose Landers and Kim Hutchison as new hires in, respectively, Parole and Probation, 911 Dispatch and as a reserve deputy.
• Annett Connor’s hiring as the office manager of the Wallowa County Fair Board.
• Tera Elliott, the former fair board office manager, to fill the vacant position of administrative assistant to the commissioners. She replaces Stacey Fregulia, who has become information technology director.
• The resignation of Austin Violette as a deputy with the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office. Roberts said he accepted a position with Jackson County.