To Wallowa County commissioners:

First, thank you for your opposition to Sen. Ron Wyden’s River Democracy bill. I know you are doing everything you can to defeat this unnecessary, burdensome bill. As a lifelong resident of Wallowa County, please consider my testimony that supports your effort.

May I first ask you who compiled and designated all the miles of streams in our county? For example, who had the knowledge of the Joseph Creek, Chesnimnus Creek, Elk Creek, Crow Creek, Peavine Creek and other Wallowa County streams? Did we have any representation from producers on these streams? As the impacted producers with generational experiences, why weren’t we included from the start?

We have been permit holders to graze these lands for five generations. I’m 90 years old, I was raised on Joseph Creek, and I know it better than probably anybody.

Other impacted permit holders who have knowledge of the areas listed should have been involved, too. Were they? Included within this letter is a map of the streams, gulches and other waterways of Wallowa County that this bill plans to include. Thank you Natural Resource Advisory Committee for the map.

When is enough, enough? This bill is not necessary. The Wallowa County Salmon Plan implemented with county commissioner approval was made possible by a Tuesday meeting for about a year by impacted and environmental citizens to respond to the Chinook salmon listing. Every tributary was scrutinized for problems and fixed. Miles of fencing, funded by the Grande Ronde Model Watershed, were built. The U.S. Forest Service and permittees have worked together to protect the streams on our allotments. This bill will duplicate the regulations that are being enforced by the Forest Service now.

My experience tells me this overlay of regulations will expand over the years and become much more restrictive and threatening to our ability to meet these conditions of use, and still be able to graze. Under this bill, the protection zone of these streams will be half-mile on each side. This staggers my mind! The rivers bill just turned into a Land Grab bill.

According to a study done by the American Forest Resource Council, “just 15% (of the waterways) were actually labeled as ‘rivers,’ with most being identified as streams, gulches, draws or unnamed tributaries.” (Capital Press, 2021).

This is a very dangerous part of this bill. Considering that these only carry water in the early spring and then dry up makes this bill asinine. Thus, this restrictive bill leaves small strips of land that would be impossible to graze or log, especially if the plans developed from this bill modify from the “promises” made by the Wyden committee. This bill puts a target on cattle raisers and loggers and our community. It will be expensive to implement and enforce. The Forest Service is overworked and understaffed. Most of their time is spent on litigation and lawsuits brought by numerous environmental organizations.

A small community like ours must have resources to support ranchers and loggers who then support this community. When is enough taking of our resource base enough?

The county commissioners need a map showing how much of Wallowa County has already been taken away by the “tyranny of the majority.”

The Eagle Cap primitive area of 565 square miles was taken in 1930. This took away the summer sheep grazing for many bands of sheep. The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area was established in 1975 (133,983 acres). Then the HCNRA of 652,488 acres stopped the sheep grazing the Snake River Canyon. This just about finished one of the main industries in the county. There were once 200,000 sheep in the Wallowa County, most of them grazing on these areas mentioned.

Enough yet? Oh no, by the “tyranny of the majority” in Oregon many miles of stream have been listed to Wild and Scenic waterways already. The list goes on and on. It is difficult to count or categorize all of the takings we have endured in our county. Our population of only 7,000 citizens finds it very hard to resist “the tyranny of the majority.”

Our mills are closed from the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and all of the associated over-regulations. Now under government mismanagement, we watch the national forests burn. This valuable resource was a source of income for our county. Now we are taxed to pay for putting out the fires. We have 18 unused or open allotments on our forest, no longer used due mostly to over-regulation. The sheep we no longer graze and the vacant allotments that cattle no longer graze are no longer income to the county through federal grazing receipts. Without logging or grazing, wildfires burn bigger and hotter. When is enough, enough?

Not yet.The “tyranny of the majority” has imposed about every predator upon our herds, the wolf being the most cruel killer of all that we have to deal with, so far. They chase our domesticated animals — they run them down and eat them as they still are alive. This breaks our hearts!

I feel like I am riding across a swamp on “old Red.” I’m half way to the other side. It’s getting deeper and Red is having difficulty, he’s lunging now — not good. I know I can’t turn back — Red will fall.

To our county commissioners: Please deliver to Sen. Wyden and say enough is enough! Take no more of our land or streams. Remove Wallowa County from your bill.


Mack Birkmaier is a lifelong rancher in the Joseph Creek Area. He was president of both the local Wallowa County Stockgrowers Association and also the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. To this day, Birkmaier is still a strong defender of Wallowa County.

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