U.S. 2nd District Congressman Greg Walden explained his recent work, listened to constituents, and answered questions at a town hall meeting in Wallowa on Sunday, June 30. About 30 people attended the meeting. It was part of Walden’s’ 5 Day, 942-mile town pre-4th of July sprint to hold 13 town halls.
Four concerns dominated the meeting: Timber and other natural resource issues, health care and Medicare, robo calls, and immigration.
Walden kicked off the meeting with a summary of his recent legislative work.
“The improvements to the farm bill that we made last year are now law,” he said. Many of those apply to timber harvest on federal lands, including the application of “Categorical Exclusion” (CE) to the harvest and management of tracts up to 3000 acres to get action for disease and insect infestation, hazardous fuels reduction, and collaborative working landscape projects. Walden’s work on the Farm Bill has also allowed expanded good neighbor policy so that states and local governments can play a bigger role in working with the Forest Service to get ahead of problems, Walden said.
“But there is more that we need to do, he said. Walden is advancing the Resilient Federal Forest Act that “…provides the ability to clean up the forest after fires, remove burned, dead trees while they still have value, and replant forests for the next generation,” he said. “Too often these trees just rot and fall over and produce fuel for the next fire. Id like to see us get in there in a timely basis, get the burned dead timber out of there on a timely basis.”
Harvesting larger diameter trees can also contribute to forest health, Walden noted. “We are still stuck with the 21” diameter rule on the east side, which I think was put in by Clinton administration but now stands in the way of timely scientific and active forest management, so we would get rid of that. “
Continuing his emphasis on harvesting trees killed by fire, Walden noted that 75% of carbon emissions occur after the fire as the wood and burned materials decay. “So if you are concerned about emissions its good to limit the fuels and then get the fires out,” he said.
Walden’s other major accomplishment has been his work to limit “robocalls”. There were 47.8 billion unwanted, spoofed and illegal robocalls in America last year. The 541 area code received 12.8 million of them.
So Walden has introduced the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. It empowers the FCC to track calls from overseas and requires U.S. carriers to use authentication technology that can block disguised or “spoofing” calls. “Your phone may show a call coming in from a Wallowa County number,” Walden said, “but it’s coming from India or somewhere.”
When time came for questions, several Wallowa County residents expressed concerns that their Medicare benefits were not able to cover needs that included higher technology hearing aids or admission just for observation to a hospital.
Forest Service management and harvest—or lack thereof—from the 2017 Grizzly Fire prompted questions and comments about forestry. Issues included the movement of bugs and diseases moving from the burned area onto private forested lands.
“We have a lot of diseased trees that are over the 21” and we cannot harvest those and get them out of the system to take care of the disease problem. It doesn’t make sense to have to harvest the young trees that are growing and leave the dead and diseased ones behind,” said one frustrated landowner.
Several other people questioned Walden about his response to the ongoing immigration crisis at the southern border, especially for children. In response, Walden explained that he had voted for a senate bill that provided strictly humanitarian care for asylum-seekers. “The bill is all humanitarian aid,” he said. “It provides up to 2.88 billion for care of unaccompanied minors and others. There is no funding for a wall in that bill.”
“The border is very much a humanitarian crisis,” Walden said. “This is the safest many of these people have been since they left their home countries because now they are out of the hands of the coyotes and away from the drug cartels they just marched through. We are taking care of the children as fast and as best we can. We never should have separated those kids at the border in the first place. That was wrong. I voted last July to prevent that from ever happening again.”
The last major issue raised at the meeting came from commissioner Todd Nash. It was a wholly economic one.
“The commodity prices that we see here at the ground level have not kept pace with inflation,” he said. “I did some calculations and going back to 1959, a $500 calf would be worth about $1870 today, just on the basis of inflation. But today, calves are worth about $750. Timber prices the same way. We’d be up over $1500 for Doug fir — we get $300 most of the time. The trade policies we were hoping this president would capture for the rural areas are not there. When I talked with Sonny Perdue last summer he said “Be patient.” And there is, or was, a level of patience, but that’s running out.”
Walden seemed to agree but offered little consolation except to hope that newly opened negotiations with China and elsewhere would improve commodity prices and demand for Wallowa County producers. “I’ve never been a big tariff fan,” he said. “The clock’s ticking. If we don’t get these agreements nailed soon, it’s likely that we’ll be losing market share for wheat and other commodities that we raise.”