Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Daily Astorian, Dec. 2, on the humble chum
Creating a niche fishery makes sense and is good for the ecosystem
Who would eat dog? Perhaps many more of us should, though not in the form of Rover but rather dog, chum or keta salmon, as the species has variously been known over the years.
On the U.S. West Coast as a whole, commercial landings of chum were 149.9 million pounds in 2012, a 46 percent gain over 2011. But these catches certainly weren't made in the Columbia River, where only two residual populations remain after decades of deliberate extermination efforts and habitat losses.
Some chum also still survive in Willapa Bay, where an earlier generation of state fish managers were less than completely successful in destroying chum runs in a misguided effort to open up rivers for more commercially valuable species. The loss of robust Willapa chum runs has, however, had a number of impossible-to-quantify side effects, possibly including an explosion in mud shrimp populations.
The humble chum was the subject of a lengthy story in the online news source Crosscut last week. Crosscut argued that chum is under-appreciated as a menu item at about $7.50 a pound for fresh fillets, as opposed to something like $30 for Chinook. It smokes well, but also is delicious with various sauces. Much of the catch is exported to Asia.
Although nothing holds a candle to fresh spring Chinook, chum were also spurned by our ancestors in part because salmon was viewed as a substitute for beef on meat-free Fridays. This meant that "the redder, the better," and pale-fleshed chum were regarded as too bland, pale and dry. Nowadays, when consumers often prefer fish like albacore that don't have a strong taste, chum might gain broader acceptance.
Considering how few there are in local waters, why would we want to consider eating more of them? Certainly, we shouldn't commercially target Columbia-Willapa chum, in the short term. But building an economically important niche fishery around chum may be the best way to give human beings a real stake in bringing them back.
The permanent subtraction of any species from the food web has untold impacts on the health of the whole system. Restoring Columbia chum runs is a priority — though it's hard to say how high of one — for NOAA Fisheries. It should be a priority for all of us.
Corvallis Gazette-Times, Nov. 26, on the kicker and the latest revenue report
Legislators got a dose of good news last week when they heard the quarterly report about state government revenue. The report offered additional evidence that Oregon's economic recovery is gathering steam.
But the news came with an asterisk that long has bedeviled Oregon state finances.
Mark McMullen, the state economist, told legislators that the combined effect of the state's economic recovery and the tax increase approved in the fall's special session has brought the state about halfway to the point where a so-called "kicker" refund would be invoked.
You recall the kicker: It's a refund given to taxpayers when the state takes in 2 percent more revenue than projected when the state budget was passed. For this two-year budget period, the trigger will be invoked at about $300 million.
The tax increases authorized by the special session will contribute $100 million toward the $300 million; that tax money mostly is scheduled to go to K-12 education. The recovering Oregon economy is estimated to add an additional $46 million in state revenue.
When you add it all up, it means we're about halfway to the point where taxpayers could collect kicker refunds in 2015, even if the tax money already has been allocated and spent.
Democratic State Sen. Ginny Burdick said it was troubling that the state faces the prospect of a kicker "just as we're getting some level of stability in our education system." But she also said she thought there was time for the Legislature to make adjustments.
The problem is, as Burdick herself knows just about better than anyone else, that legislators are leery about tackling any kind of badly needed reform to the kicker, which has contributed significantly to the state's cycle of boom-and-bust budgeting. Burdick and her former colleague, Republican Sen. Frank Morse, have spent a decade trying to pound some sense into this crazy system — and haven't made much progress.
In fact, the kicker system even makes it harder for the state to set aside adequate rainy-day funds for that inevitable moment when the economic rally runs out of steam.
The general idea behind the kicker, to put some brakes on the tendency of government to spend every dime it can, is sound. But there are much better ways to accomplish that goal. Gov. John Kitzhaber reportedly is working on ideas to reform Oregon's taxation system. Let's hope kicker reform is on his short list.
Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 27, on Wyden's O&C lands plan
Congress now has before it two plans to increase logging and strengthen old-growth protections on more than 2 million acres of federally managed timber land in Western Oregon — one approved by the House in September, the other unveiled Tuesday by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. The House bill can't pass the Senate, and Wyden's plan is likely to be judged unacceptable in the House. The two approaches will have to be reconciled, and the time for melding them is short.
The House bill, conceived by Oregon Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden, would divide the former Oregon & California Railroad lands into two trusts, one to be managed for timber production and the other for conservation. The proposal would provide increased revenue to timber-dependent counties while giving old-growth forests on the O&C lands legislative protection they now lack.
Wyden's much-anticipated alternative takes a different approach. It, too, would set aside about half of the O&C lands for permanent protection, but without creating a trust arrangement. It, too, would allow timber harvests on the other half of the lands, but the logging would be less intensive, leaving about a third of the trees standing.
The differences between the two approaches are revealed in the volumes of timber that are projected to flow from the O&C lands: The House bill would result in an annual cut of about 500 million board feet, while the volume under Wyden's plan would be 300 million to 350 million board feet. The House bill also protects timber sales from legal challenges; under Wyden's proposal legal challenges could continue but their settlement would be expedited.
Another big difference: Under the House bill, timber sales would generate enough revenue to at least partially restore funding to the 18 counties that have historically balanced their budgets with their share of income from the O&C lands. Under Wyden's approach, the federal government would make up for counties' lost revenues through a permanent payments program, replacing the uncertain and declining federal payments of the past decade.
There's a lot of daylight between these two proposals. To their credit, conservationists, the timber industry and organizations representing the counties have mostly refrained from lining up behind one or the other. They understand that any bill that emerges from Congress will contain elements of both approaches, and that a compromise will be a vast improvement over the status quo: Timber harvests on the O&C lands have dwindled, while forests that are vital to wildlife and water quality lack the permanent protection that only Congress can provide.
The opportunity for a compromise will fade soon. Wyden is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over public lands. After next year Wyden is expected to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, presuming Democrats retain control of the Senate. DeFazio is the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The committee is currently chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who has an understanding of the O&C lands' unique history that a successor is likely to lack.
Oregon will never be better-positioned to put in place an economically and environmentally sound legislative framework for management of the O&C lands. Wyden needs to get his proposal approved by the Senate so that the work of reconciling it with the House bill can begin.
The Oregonian, Dec. 2, on high school teams' use of Native American mascots
When the Oregon Board of Education voted in 2012 to ban the use of Native American mascots, the state's 15 square-peg public high schools did not rush out, en masse, to repaint gym floors and order new sports uniforms. This was partly due to a five-year compliance window that recognized the cost of the transition and the need to choose replacement mascots. Some districts, meanwhile, thought the heavy hand of Salem had struck unjustly.
Among the latter is the Banks School District, where officials even now are trying to figure out how to remain the Braves after July 1, 2017. To that end, as reported by The Oregonian's Laura Frazier, Superintendent Bob Huston met recently with Reyn Leno, who chairs the tribal council of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and is not unalterably opposed to mascots like Banks'. Huston is now trying to set up a meeting with the other districts — about 10, he says — for which the Grand Ronde is the nearest tribal organization.
The frustration in Banks and elsewhere is understandable, but the effort ultimately is doomed. Surely district officials have more productive ways to spend their time and energy.
The Braves mascot is a "cultural element within the community," says Huston, who argues that it's highly respected, even revered. Meanwhile, he says, changing it would send a terrible message to the small district's elementary students, which is "that we've done something wrong." Repainting facilities and ordering new uniforms also would cost thousands of dollars, though Huston says that's not the primary reason for resisting the change.
We understand the power of tradition, and we also understand how irritating it must be for a handful of people many miles away to decide that your high school's mascot is offensive even though nobody in the district means to give offense. Problem is, the use of Native American mascots does offend many people — can you blame them? — and over the long run districts like Banks will lose the mascot fight. Native American mascots are anachronistic now and will become increasingly so in the future. So why not do the inevitable rather than dragging it out?
As an indication of just how problematic the save-our-mascots push is, consider a bill approved by lawmakers this year but vetoed justly by Gov. John Kitzhaber. Senate Bill 215 would have allowed districts to retain Native American mascots under one condition. Each participating district would have to strike an agreement with the closest tribe to identify acceptable mascot names and symbols; behavior expectations of students and spectators related to the mascot; and cultural diversity training for athletic directors and others identified by the district.
You know there's a problem with your mascot when retaining it requires a contract, a code of conduct and cultural diversity training. Those aren't the sorts of things you have to do when your fans cheer for the Antelopes, Grizzlies or Dragons. And what can you say (other than "weird") about the notion that offensiveness is best judged by the tribe in closest proximity? Are aggrieved tribes at a greater distance simply supposed to sit back and say, "That's OK?"
The governor's veto won't prevent legislators from reintroducing SB 215, and Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, has said he plans to do so next year. If it resembles the legislation the governor vetoed, it will meet the same fate, though Kitzhaber has indicated he's willing to support a more narrowly drawn bill that would allow districts to adopt the names of amenable tribes, as college teams now do. Such legislation would be an improvement, we suppose, but even a narrow bill won't end the controversy over Native American mascots or, we suspect, the course of history.
Some things are worth fighting for, but this is not. Public schools have enough challenges without inviting more. Fortunately, the world of non-controversial mascots is nearly infinite, and the inspiration that produced great names like the South Eugene Axemen and the North Medford Black Tornado can work for Banks as well.
Albany Democrat-Herald, Dec. 2, on Oregon's educational reforms
Oregon's attempts to reform its educational system — from preschool all the way through college — hit a bit of a speed bump last week.
The Obama administration notified state education officials that it was standing by an earlier determination that Oregon is at risk of failing to comply with its waiver from the federal "No Child Left Behind" education law.
That follows an August announcement from the U.S. Department of Education that the state was at "high risk" of losing its waiver because the state has not fulfilled a promise to bring teacher and principal evaluation systems up to federal systems.
According to a story from The Associated Press, Oregon officials asked the administration to drop the high-risk label, noting that they were making efforts to comply with the federal mandates. But in a letter last week, the administration rejected the request.
This has the potential to be a big deal, unless the state can persuade the administration to back off. The waiver from the No Child Left Behind law has freed up some room in which Gov. John Kitzhaber and his staff can attempt their far-reaching educational reforms.
If the state fails to convince federal officials it has met the waiver requirements, it might have to return to the original federal rules that require every school and every district to meet a group of benchmarks for students in various ethnic and economic groups.
Rob Saxton, the deputy superintendent of Oregon schools (remember that Kitzhaber himself is the superintendent of schools), expressed disappointment at the federal decision — and said he believed the state was "on track to meet the deadlines, goals and objective laid out in our waiver."
The sticking point has been Oregon's delay in adopting a statewide method for including student growth as a significant factor in its teacher and principal evaluations.
State officials have said they have no interest in creating a system that evaluates teachers primarily on the basis of standardized test results — one of the big knocks against No Child Left Behind. So more than two dozen school districts have been piloting different approaches, and the state Education Department will evaluate the results and make a recommendation to the federal government by May 1.
We like the state's approach considerably more than the one-size-fits-all approach laid out in No Child Left Behind. But the onus now is on state educational officials to persuade a skeptical federal government that their approach makes the most sense for Oregon students and teachers — and to keep giving Oregon the space it needs for its educational reforms to take root.
The Bulletin, Dec. 3, on irrigation regulations and onions
If onions, not the green ones but the ones suited for burgers, stews and soups, are a part of your diet, you have a stake in the current effort to persuade the federal Food and Drug Administration to change proposed regulations about irrigating those onions. Even if you skip the onions, you have a stake: They're an important part of this state's agricultural economy.
Farmers in Eastern Oregon and Idaho grow about a quarter of the bulb onions — the ones with a papery skin on the outside — sold in this country. They irrigate their crops with surface water, which is more likely to be tainted with E. coli than well water would be.
Now the FDA, working to put new fresh produce safety rules in place, has proposed water cleanliness standards that would make growing onions here too expensive to be feasible.
The agency has reason to be concerned about food-borne illnesses such as E. coli infection, particularly on things like lettuce, spinach and cantaloupe, which are generally served raw.
They can pick up E. coli bacteria from irrigation water as well as from improper handling in the field and elsewhere. And while the FDA cannot assure proper handling 100 percent of the time, it hopes strict new rules on irrigation water will help.
All that makes perfect sense — to a point. But bulb onions, while they can be eaten raw, are not handled the way lettuce is, and the difference is crucial. Bulb onions, you see, are cured in the field before they're ever sent to market, a process that an Oregon State University scientist has found leaves the onions E. coli free. In addition, the papery outer skin is virtually always removed before the onions are eaten.
The FDA has gotten plenty of pushback from onion growers on the proposed changes, so much so that it is accepting comments on them even after its Nov. 22 deadline — though it's unclear if a second formal comment period is what the agency has in mind.
That's good news. Onion growers have science on their side, and they need to be given time to make their case to the FDA.