Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Letter from Senator Doug Whitsett, Oregon
District 28, 1/31/06
Our local economy, and the management of our federal forest lands are closely related. We in District 28 should be especially concerned because the federal government owns well more than half of our entire district. Decades of failed government management has caused our forest health to be severely degraded. That failed management has resulted in catastrophic forest fires such as the nearly 800 square mile Biscuit fire that destroyed entire watersheds from Grants Pass to the Pacific Ocean, the huge Box fire near Sisters that incinerated the entire wilderness area where my family used to camp when I was a kid, and the Strawberry Mountain wilderness area near John Day where we used to go elk hunting. More than 190 million acres of federal land are now at high risk of similar catastrophic fires.
The Forest Recovery and Research Act sponsored by our Congressman Greg Walden, and strongly supported by Oregon State University College of Forestry research, will provide federal land mangers the ability to react to, and manage the aftermath of ruinous fires, insect invasions, and wind storms. This rapid evaluation and quick action plan will allow timely salvage of our damaged timber resources, and speed reforestation efforts that are so essential to preventing further watershed degradation.
Appropriate common sense multiple use management of our federal lands will create family wage jobs that are so essential to our local economy, while preserving the ecological integrity of our federal lands. The job growth being created in our District by the current economic recovery is encouraging, but those jobs often do not offer family supporting wages. Seventeen of the twenty most rapidly growing job opportunities in Southern Oregon do not even require post secondary education, and the mean starting hourly wage of those jobs is less than $8.50 an hour. Most of those jobs provide few benefits. Although service and hospitality jobs do provide needed employment they are not equivalent replacements for the manufacturing jobs that were lost and that are not being replaced.
The ongoing development of the Lakeview Biomass project is an excellent example of how implementation of the Forest Recovery and Research Act can stimulate our rural economy. This proposed industry cluster will provide family wage jobs for local residents and rouse the Lakeview economy while measurably reducing the risk of the catastrophic fires that have plagued the Lakeview area. In this case forest fire salvage and fire prevention management are being used to stimulate private sector investment and job creation in the true sense of sustainable multiple use of our natural resources.
Gail and I have been busy since we sent our last newsletter in late November. We have traveled to attend more than 60 meetings and events both in Salem for Legislative business and throughout our District to listen to your thoughts and concerns.
We were privileged to be the invited guests at the Klamath Alcohol and Drug Abuse Christmas Awards Banquet where I was given a beautiful Pendleton Wool Shawl in recognition of our legislative work in support of mental health, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment.
November 23rd our Interim Legislative Committee on Revenue met in Salem where I voiced my thoughts on how a dollar saved by our State government is equal to a dollar of taxes that need not be collected. I will continue to attempt to focus the Committee’s attention on accountable spending practices instead of tax raising schemes.
The committee to study the services and the fiscal accountability of the Oregon School for the Blind (OSB) and the Oregon School for the Deaf met in Salem on both December 6th and January 25th. OSB currently employs 75 people, maintains 10 buildings on about a 30 acre campus in downtown Salem, and spends $4.2 million annually to serve 34 visually impaired and disabled children. About 1,000 other visually impaired or blind Oregon K-12 students do not receive services from OSB.I intend for my participation on this committee to change that paradigm. The Committee will have four more monthly meetings before making recommendations to the Legislature.
The Senate Interim Judiciary Committee met in Salem December 14th where my primary effort was to create equitable funding opportunities for several rural drug courts including Klamath, Jackson, and Crook counties. At the end of the day we were successful in directing the Criminal Justice Commission to consider grant proposals to expand the outcomes of existing drug courts as well as to create and expand other drug courts. These rural courts are essential tools in our war against methamphetamine.
The Senate convened on January 19th to consider confirmation of our Governor’s appointments. Gail and I met with ODF&W Commission chair Marla Rae for more than an hour at my office in Salem on Jan 18th. From my point of view, Ms. Rae has chaired the Commission while it has advanced the wrong positions on Wolf Management, Cougar Management, wild fish preservation, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep management, and salmon harvest quotas. Under her chairmanship the Commission appears to have acquiesced to political pressure rather than manage our game resources using appropriate scientific methods. I voted against her confirmation for these reasons even though I was certain that her reappointment would be confirmed by the Senate.
The Joint Interim Legislative Audit Committee met at the Capitol January 26th. This committee is responsible to oversee accountability in Oregon government. It works with the Secretary of State’s Audit Division to identify agencies and practices that require auditing and to follow up on those completed audits. The Legislature has also charged the Committee to evaluate the performance of all state agencies. This includes evaluation of whether the agency is working within its statutory authority, whether it is appropriately serving its customer base, whether it is making appropriate progress toward its goals, and how close to a dollar’s worth of benefit it achieves per tax dollar spent.
I join several members of this committee in wanting to change how our budget is structured. Currently, if an agency does not spend all of the money allocated to it the assumption is made that the agency will require less money during the next budget cycle. This “spend it or lose it” structure is counterproductive to accountability and not only encourages, but virtually requires wasteful spending. Our State budget needs to be restructured to encourage thrift rather than promoting overspending and sloth. I look forward to working with these committee members toward that end.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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