Capital Press | Capital Press Sat, 5 Sep 2015 00:36:18 -0400 en Capital Press | Transparency, education focus of dairy tour Fri, 4 Sep 2015 16:55:01 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas Capital Press

BUHL, Idaho — Like virtually every other dairyman, John Brubaker is proud of his family operation and the lengths he, his sons and their employees go to care for their animals and bring a wholesome product to the table.

But also like virtually every other dairyman, he’s an independent thinker and until recently just wanted to be left alone to run his dairy and produce quality milk.

During a media tour of the family’s Knott Run Dairy on Sept. 3., Brubaker said dairymen think the quality of their product should speak for itself, but we’re seeing that doesn’t work when it comes to consumer confidence.

Embracing the idea that transparency is a better route to consumer trust has been a learning curve for the fourth-generation dairyman.

He now operates with a different mind-set — “Open up the facility; we’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

He led the tour through every aspect of his operation, explaining everything from animal health, nutrition and reproductive cycles to milking, refrigeration and monitoring technology.

He invited members of the media to go wherever they wanted and photograph whatever they wanted.

His intention, he said, was to show people who might not have an ag background how his operation produces a wholesome product that’s as fresh as you can get anywhere in the world.

His milk is picked up every morning, year round, maybe an hour after the milking is finished, trucked to Glanbia Foods and is a block of cheese by afternoon, he said.

“You can’t get any fresher than that,” he said.

He and his sons, their veterinarian and nutritionist all responded comfortably to a battery of questions, including those on genetically modified feed and rBST.

Cindy Miller, senior director of consumer confidence for United Dairymen of Idaho, said the dairy industry wants people to come out to the farm to understand the quality measures dairymen have in place and dispel some of the myths about milk production and animal care.

“A lot of people are really interested in where their food comes from. We can’t invite whole cities,” but UDI holds media and group tours “to help people understand the products on the shelf start on family farms,” she said.

There are 514 dairy farms in Idaho, and all of them are family farms, some smaller, some larger than Brubaker’s operation, which milks about 300 cows. The same holds true across the U.S., where 97 percent of the nation’s dairy farms are family owned, according to USDA.

UDI encourages people to learn more about dairy production. Tours of farms happen all the time, especially with school groups, and people can request tours through UDI or their local dairymen, Miller said.

Personal contact and hands-on experience are powerful tools for educating consumers and promoting the wholesomeness of U.S. dairy, Brubaker said.

Active in industry groups, Brubaker recently went on a trade mission to Vietnam with U.S. Dairy Export Council. USDEC had made videos of his dairy operation as well as three other dairymen on the trade mission.

Traders from Southeast Asia had the perception that American dairies were industrialized operations that didn’t take care of the cows. But they learned through that personal contact that U.S. dairies are far different then their perception and they were eager for U.S. product, Brubaker said.

That one day accounted for sales of 65 million metric tons of U.S. dairy product, he said.

“It’s all about telling your story. We really need to be more transparent so people know where cheese (and other dairy products) comes from,” he said.

IPC to cover shipper costs of using heart health checkmark Fri, 4 Sep 2015 09:33:35 -0400 John O’Connell SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The Idaho Potato Commission plans to cover licensing fees for any member shipper using the American Heart Association’s heart health checkmark on packaging, thanks to savings achieved in a recently renegotiated contract.

IPC announced the change to the AHA program Sept. 3 during the Idaho Grower Shippers Association’s annual meeting. AHA officials say they now plan to offer the same discounted rates for all other qualifying commodities.

After completing nutrition assessments, IPC obtained AHA Heart-Check certification for four potato categories in the spring of 2011. The recognition came at a cost, however.

Under the original contract, IPC paid $20,000 per year to license Russets, fingerlings, reds and yellows. Shippers had to pay $1,000 per year for each category eligible for the checkmark.

The new contract reduces IPC’s base rate to $12,000 per year. Discounts for shipper licenses will be tied to participation. For example, IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said the cost of 50 shipper licenses would drop from $50,000 per year to $15,000. Muir said only five of 30 Idaho shippers took advantage of the checkmark under the old contract, and he asked top AHA executives whether they considered it more important to generate revenue through their program or educate consumers about healthy food choices.

“I felt like we could get much more participation if we were able to restructure our program with our shippers,” Muir said.

Alex Barbieri, director of the AHA program, said the organization will meet with other commodities about the new contract options. The 20-year-old program licenses 700 products, and research shows it influences more than 60 percent of consumers. Barbieri said the program is revenue-neutral, with funds reinvested in staffing and promotion.

“Not enough Americans are eating healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables,” Barbieri said. “There’s a lot of work we need to do to get that message out.”

Another change in the new contract allows shippers to obtain approval for new packaging using the checkmark through IPC rather than AHA, which often requires several months to process requests.

Randy Hardy, an IPC board member from Oakley and chairman of the board with Sun Valley Potatoes, said his company hasn’t participated in the checkmark program but likely will soon, due to the changes.

“I think having that expense waived, you’ll see guys pick it up more,” Hardy said.

Hardy said shippers must still bear the cost of updating printing plates to use the checkmark, but he likes that the new logo uses just two colors, which is far cheaper than the previous four-color logo.

Muir said th timing for a third-party potato health message is ideal, with new federal nutrition guidelines expected to come out soon, listing potassium — a nutrient found in abundance in spuds — as a key concern.

Also during the meeting:

• Muir announced an independent research company, Joyce, Julius & Associates, commissioned by ESPN concluded the annual advertising value of the IPC-sponsored Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is $2.8 million. Under its new contract, IPC pays $450,000 per year to sponsor the college football game, which will be played at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 22.

• IPC’s new Great Big Idaho Potato Truck commercial was scheduled to debut during the Boise State University football game against University of Washington, which airs starting at 8:15 p.m. Sept. 4. The commercial features grower Mark Coombs and his dog and ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox. The next potato truck tour will begin next spring with “a big helping” as the theme.

• IPC has launched a redesigned website intended to work better with hand-held devices. The website receives about 1 million hits per year.

State report tracks economic, demographic change in rural Oregon Fri, 4 Sep 2015 16:47:45 -0400 Eric Mortenson The “Timber Belt” running from Northern California up through Oregon and into Washington sustained an economic collapse and population loss similar to the “Rust Belt” and “Corn Belt” of the Midwest, but its recovery has been entirely different, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.

In a new report on demographic and economic trends unfolding in rural Oregon, state analysts detail pockets of resurgence, surprisingly hopeful statistics and unanswered questions of what comes next.

“All along the Timber Belt, people keep moving in” at a pace just as strong as the migration to urban centers such as Portland, state economists Mark McMullen and Joshua Lehner wrote.

“In general, these incoming migrants are different than the households moving out,” the analysts wrote. “Much of the time they are older and relocate to rural Oregon as they retire or reduce their work hours.”

The new residents of rural Oregon bring a “lifetime of experience” and wealth, “often in the form of California home equity,” McMullen and Lehner wrote.

“Figuring out how best to exploit the Timber Belt’s strong influx of retirees should be a top priority given such individuals are voting with their feet, in essence, saying they want to live in the area and be a part of the community,” the analysts said. “Overall this is certainly a good thing.”

Rural Oregon loses population during the “root setting” years of ages 25 to 34, when young adults are establishing careers, starting families and buying homes, the report said. Unlike most of rural America, however, Oregon is offsetting those losses with older migrants.

But for the young adults who stay in rural Oregon, McMullen and Lehner said statistics show children raised in rural Oregon, especially Eastern Oregon, have a good chance of succeeding in life.

Harvard University’s Equality of Opportunity Project found that a rural Oregon child born at the bottom income level had a strong probability of reaching the top level as an adult, the authors said. Among more than 700 communities nationwide, the Oregon towns of Burns, Condon, Enterprise, John Day and Lakeview were among the top third in fostering such success, according to McMullen and Lehner.

Bruce Weber, director of the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University, said the state analysis is “insightful.”

If the “boom and bust” nature of rural economies “creates an environment in which children grow up with different expectations and different levels of investment in education, these could also reduce upward mobility,” Weber said in an email.

Meanwhile, economic recovery in Oregon has pockets of success and stagnation.

While Portland and its suburbs are popping again, most of rural Oregon has not recovered the jobs lost in the recession, the authors said. An exception is the Columbia River Gorge, which the analysts said has benefited from three major trends.

First, agriculture remains strong, mainly fruit, and higher commodity prices helped local farmers. Second, wind farm construction provided investment and jobs from 2007 to 2011, which included the depth of the recession. Last, the unmanned aerial vehicle industry — drones — has grown dramatically over the past decade. Insitu, a major drone manufacturer, is headquartered in Bingen, Wash., across the Columbia from Hood River.

“A large portion of such jobs are on the Washington side of the Columbia River, however the economic and population base in the gorge is on the Oregon side, where much of the consumer spending occurs,” McMullen and Lehner wrote.

Although not cited by name in the state report, Hermiston, in Umatilla County, rode out the recession to become the biggest and fastest growing city in Eastern Oregon.

In Hermiston’s case, a strong agricultural sector is a stabilizing base for the economy, City Manager Byron Smith said.

“However you want to phrase it, people still need to have food,” he said. “A lot of our economy is based on that, either the actual production or the processing of agricultural products.”

Hermiston farmers grow potatoes, onions, melons and multiple types of other irrigated vegetables. The area has several food processing plants, and attracted a DuPont Pioneer corn seed research station.

Finally, the city diversified its economy through growth in the transportation and logistics sector. Wal-Mart has a distribution center in Hermiston, and FedEx and UPS also have facilities in the area.

“That’s another piece of the economy that does well for us,” Smith said.


See the Rural Oregon analysis at

Rain washes away ‘extreme’ drought in W. Washington Fri, 4 Sep 2015 15:56:12 -0400 Don Jenkins Unusually heavy rains in late August eased drought conditions in Western Washington from “extreme” to “severe,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reports.

The reversal may be temporary. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center predicted a cool and wet stretch in late August and early September for Western Washington. The center forecasts a return to above average temperatures and below normal precipitation for Washington — as well as Oregon, Idaho and California — as a strengthening El Nino in the Pacific Ocean reasserts itself.

“By no means is the drought over,” Washington Assistant State Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said. “What we had at the end of August was a bit of an anomaly.”

The percentage of Washington in extreme drought dropped to 68 percent from 85 percent between Aug. 25 and Sept. 1. Roughly, the eastern two-thirds of the state is in extreme drought, while the western one-third is in severe drought, the next lowest classification.

Western Washington received 200 to 800 percent more rain than normal between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1, according to the state climatologist office. Eastern Washington, with the exception of a small portion of Stevens County, received below average rainfall.

The rain caused stream flows west of the Cascades to jump dramatically. In some cases, rivers went from record lows to above normal flows for late August, according to U.S. Geological Survey gauges.

Some 93 irrigators in the Chehalis River basin in southwest Washington were able to irrigate for the first time since having their water rights curtailed in late July, according to the state Department of Ecology.

Oregon, California and Idaho have seen only minor fluctuations this summer in drought conditions as classified by the drought monitor, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Washington, however, has seen big week-to-week changes, with large chunks of the state rapidly slipping into “severe” and then “extreme” conditions. Thursday was the first week this year that drought conditions improved in Washington.

Droughts conditions have hardened in California, which is immune to isolated weather events. Some 46 percent of the state has been in “exceptional drought,” the highest classification, since April 21. Another 25 percent of California is in extreme drought, while 21 percent is in severe drought.

Oregon and Idaho were also unchanged from the week before. Some 67 percent of Oregon is in extreme drought and 32 percent in severe drought. In Idaho, 29 percent is in extreme drought and 19 percent is in severe drought.

Rancher, environmentalists make tentative pact on wolves Fri, 4 Sep 2015 15:49:16 -0400 Don Jenkins TUMWATER, Wash. — A rancher whose wolf-imperiled sheep were a flash point between environmentalists and livestock producers last year may get support from conservation groups to return his flock to northeast Washington, a possible partnership that a state wildlife official called “amazing.”

The loose-knit deal was struck Thursday among the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 18-member wolf advisory group, which includes environmentalists and the rancher, Dave Dashiell, who estimates he lost more than 300 sheep in 2014 to the Huckleberry wolf pack.

The department outraged wolf advocates by responding to Dashiell’s losses in 2014 by killing the pack’s breeding female. Still unable to find safe and suitable grazing land, Dashiell moved his flock this year to Central Washington, where he’s spending more than $10,000 a month on hay, an expense that he says may force him out of the sheep business.

The advisory group’s environmentalists tentatively agreed to publicly support Dashiell’s return to graze in wolf country. In return, Dashiell said he will welcome their involvement in putting together a plan to protect his sheep with non-lethal measures.

After the meeting, Dashiell said he and the environmentalists were risking being criticized by their colleagues for collaborating.

“That’s pretty gutsy of them. I don’t know what kind of blowback they’re going to get. I don’t know what kind of blowback I’m going to get,” he said.

Although other Washington ranchers have lost livestock to wolves, no rancher has reported more losses or received more attention than Dashiell.

While outraging environmentalists, WDFW also angered livestock producers by not following through on plans to shoot three more wolves from the Huckleberry pack. The same pack this summer seriously injured a dog guarding a small flock that Dashiell kept near his home, provoking a new round of debate about whether WDFW is too quick or too slow to shoot wolves that kill livestock.

The advisory group, led by conflict-resolution consultant Francine Madden, spent several hours Thursday talking in generalities about human conflicts.

In the late afternoon, group member Dave Duncan of Washingtonians for Wildlife Conservation, a hunters’ organization, urged the group to “get its hands dirty, trying to do something.” He said the group could start by considering how it can help Dashiell.

Dashiell said the group could back his return to northeast Washington, showing corporate landowners that environmental organizations won’t criticize them for leasing him grazing land. State grazing land is available, but it’s more expensive, Dashiell said.

Some of the group’s environmentalists seized on the idea as a chance to show they can work with ranchers.

“It’s a great step forward. It’s a signal of getting over the divisiveness,” said Paula Swedeen, a biologist who represents Conservation Northwest.

The collaboration could fail to come together. The diverse group, which includes the Humane Society of the United States and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association, agreed any statement supporting Dashiell would have to be unanimous. Some worried the partnership would be misinterpreted as a special favor to a panel member.

WDFW wolf policy coordinator Donny Martorello said the risks were worth taking to heal the rift between environmentalists and ranchers. He said he couldn’t have imagined talk of a collaboration a year ago. “It felt amazing,” he said.

OSU session highlights tools sized for Oregon’s small farms Fri, 4 Sep 2015 15:28:07 -0400 Eric Mortenson Oregon’s small urban farms have an out-sized place on the state’s agricultural landscape, but operators sometimes have trouble finding affordable implements that fit into tight spots and meet city sensibilities.

A Sept. 22 workshop at Oregon State University in Corvallis highlights tools specifically developed or revised for small-scale farms. The tools range from battery-powered tillers — with solar recharging panels — to hand carts with adjustable wheelbases that can expand or retract to match the width of crop rows.

The event includes an equipment showcase and demonstrations, a presentation on ergonomics, tool maintenance and sharpening and a panel discussion.

Businesses taking part include Green Heron Tools, Slow Hand Farm, BCS America, Johnny’s Tools, I Tech Designs and Carts & Tools. An OSU Small Farms Extension news release said people should bring in their hoes, pruners and blades for sharpening at $4 to $12 a tool.

Engineering students from OSU will attend and listen for senior project ideas.

Michael McGowen, whose Carts & Tools business in Corvallis was featured previously in the Capital Press, favors that sort of collaboration.

“I always felt like it was a good fit — agriculture and engineering,” he said. “OK, let’s get the two sides talking and working with each other.”

The event happens Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Oak Creek Center for Urban Horticulture, 844 SW 35th St., Corvallis.

Registration is $25. To register, or for more information, visit or call the Benton County Extension office, 541-766-3556.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture counted 9,119 Oregon farms of one- to nine acres. Many small-scale farmers, especially new or beginning producers, either can’t afford standard or don’t need the size, fuel use and noise of standard farm equipment.

Funding for the workshop comes in part from the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture, under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Advice to California on wolves: Watch out Fri, 4 Sep 2015 13:08:47 -0400 California is privileged to host a new wolf pack. Two adult gray wolves and five pups have taken up residence in Northern California’s Siskiyou County.

While California environmentalists and wildlife advocates are happy to see gray wolves in their midst after a long absence, pardon us if we don’t join the celebration.

We have intently watched the wolf experiment in the Northwest. Since 66 wolves were released in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996, some of them have plagued ranchers around the region. Though the federal Endangered Species Act demanded that they be protected like some dainty butterfly, wolves are aggressive predators that reproduce far more rapidly that anyone anticipated. More than 1,000 now roam in Idaho, Montana, Washington state and Oregon.

ESA protections have been lifted in some areas, and state wildlife managers are allowed to do a better job of taking care of problem wolves, but in other areas wolves are still protected.

Wildlife managers have a difficult time with wolves. Mainly, they don’t know where some of them are. A female wolf magically appeared in southwestern Oregon to mate with OR-7, a wolf that had gone on a walkabout from northeastern Oregon into California and then met his dream date back in Oregon. They now have pups, so ranchers in that part of the state are getting ready for the excitement to begin.

Another wolf that managers didn’t know about was hit by a truck on Interstate 90 east of Seattle. Other wolves regularly cross the Canadian border into Washington state.

When it comes right down to it, the estimate of the number of wolves in the Northwest can best be categorized as an educated guess. State wildlife managers always couch their population estimates by saying they are minimum numbers.

Yet ranch families — many who have raised cattle and sheep in the region for up to five generations — are supposed to stand back and allow the wolves to do their thing, which on many occasions means attacking their cattle and sheep.

They’re also supposed to pay for range riders, flashing lights, flags and other equipment that may or may not keep wolves away from their livestock.

The states and other groups do pitch in with the nonlethal preventive costs, but to put it bluntly, wolves have done little more for the ecosystem of the Northwest than to create an big, whopping pain in the ... neck.

Though some packs do stay away from livestock because other food is plentiful, others have helped themselves to whatever livestock is around. Though the number of livestock depredations is relatively small, they do not reflect the cattle and sheep deaths that wildlife managers could not identify as wolf attacks or the losses in livestock weight caused when wolves continuously chase the herd.

Wolves have proven to be lousy neighbors everywhere they’ve moved in. Our worry is the California pack will bring more of the same heartburn — cattle and sheep depredations and attacks on wildlife.

California is coming up with a wolf management plan. Our suggestion: Don’t worry about the wolves; they obviously can take care of themselves. It’s the ranchers who will need protection.

New WOTUS rule: So much for clarity Fri, 4 Sep 2015 13:08:25 -0400 New water rules drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers are now in effect in most of the country — probably, maybe.

Authors of the rules wanted to bring greater clarity to federal regulation. Not so much, it turns out.

EPA and the Corps worked on the rule for a couple of years in the hopes of reconciling two separate Supreme Court decisions in cases involving the Clean Water Act. The object was to better define what constitutes “waters of the United States,” which the act gives the federal government authority to regulate.

Despite the government’s protest to the contrary, farm and ranch groups worried the feds would use the opportunity to expand their authority over “waters,” and therefore adjacent lands, not previously subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. Such a designation could have profound and expensive consequences for landowners.

Twenty-eight states asked the EPA and Corps to delay implementation of the rules, arguing that the agencies had failed to follow proper procedure in formulating the rule, and that the rule trampled state sovereignty by regulating lands previously regulated by them.

The attorney general of North Dakota — joined by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming — filed suit. On Aug. 27, North Dakota U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson granted a preliminary injunction delaying the rule’s implementation.

In his ruling, Erickson said the states were likely to succeed on the merits because the EPA had adopted an “exceptionally expansive” regulatory scheme, allowing the EPA to regulate “waters that do not bear any effect on the ‘chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of any navigable-in-fact water.”

The EPA asserts the injunction only applies to the 13 states and that the new rule went into effect in the other 37 states as scheduled, 60 days after it was published. It points out that two other district courts rejected similar arguments made in suits brought by other states and farm groups.

Plaintiffs have asked Erickson to define the extent of his ruling. Appeals will follow. So much for clarity.

What is clear is that politics has played a big role in the case. All of the states that opposed the rule in court are run by Republicans. So, the rule does not today apply in Idaho,

The Democrats who run Washington, Oregon and California — now firmly under the EPA’s thumb — are happy with the rule, and did not join any of the lawsuits. In fact, Oregon and Washington have intervened with other Democratic states on the side of the EPA.

They should have at least consulted the Army Corps of Engineers, which wrote a scathing email to EPA officials prior to the release of the final draft. Unhappy with the way EPA wrote the document, the Corps determined the rule would not withstand a court challenge.

We hope so.

Providing regulatory relief to farmers, water users Fri, 4 Sep 2015 13:07:24 -0400 Mike Crapo Rural communities are under a substantial amount of financial strain and regulatory pressure and are looking for much-needed relief.

Bipartisan legislation I introduced seeks to help answer that call by dialing back duplicative and costly regulations associated with the federal pesticide permitting process.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on which I serve, recently passed this legislation by voice vote, and work continues to see this legislation that will lift an additional layer of needless red tape through to enactment.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has implemented a comprehensive and rigorous regulatory structure for pesticide applications under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, commonly known as FIFRA.

FIFRA governs the sale, distribution and use of pesticides, with the goal of protecting human health and the environment. The statute requires pesticides to be evaluated (undergoing more than 100 tests) and registered with EPA. Pesticide users must comply with agency-approved, uniform labeling standards.

Unfortunately, despite this federal regulatory framework already in place, a 2009 court decision forced EPA to begin requiring Clean Water Act permits for certain applications of pesticides in or near water. This duplicative regulatory requirement went into effect in 2011.

As a result of this dual regulation, EPA has estimated an additional 365,000 pesticide users — including farmers, ranchers, state agencies, cities, counties, mosquito control districts, water districts, pesticide applicators and forest managers who perform 5.6 million pesticide applications annually — will be required to obtain CWA permits. This is nearly double the number of entities previously subjected to permitting requirements, costing more than $50 million a year.

I led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation to eliminate this costly and redundant EPA regulation affecting pesticide users. S. 1500, the Sensible Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), seeks to clarify congressional intent concerning federal regulation of pesticides and codify longstanding interpretation of regulatory statutes after the 2009 court ruling imposed an additional layer of needless red tape on food producers.

The legislation would also direct the EPA administrator to report to Congress on coordination among federal agencies regarding streamlining information relating to water quality impacts from pesticide use and registration and analysis of the effectiveness of current regulatory actions relating to pesticide registration and use aimed at protecting water quality and provide recommendations on any needed reforms to better protect water quality and human health.

In addition to fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, 12 other fellow senators from both sides of the aisle joined me in introducing the measure.

We must have clean water, but overloading land stewards with paperwork and red tape is not the way to achieve this goal. Far more can be achieved by working with producers and water users to institute sensible practices.

This issue is a prime example of an unnecessary, duplicative federal regulation impacting a variety of stakeholders in Idaho and across the nation that must be fixed. Additionally, with the Obama administration’s recent CWA power grab, the problems and costs associated with this dual pesticide regulation will only become worse.

Congress must swiftly approve SEPA while we continue our fight against the inappropriate proposed regulatory expansion of the CWA.

Mike Crapo is a Republican U.S. senator from Idaho.

Forest Service spends record $243M in a week on wildfires Fri, 4 Sep 2015 07:37:30 -0400 WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service spent a record $243 million last week battling forest fires around the country, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday.

The agency has spent all the money Congress provided for fighting wildfires in the 12-month budget period, forcing it to borrow money from forest restoration work designed to reduce the risk of fires. That’s happened in six of the past 10 years, Vilsack said.

Vilsack said further transfers are likely and the agency expects to continue spending about $200 million per week on fire suppression during the coming weeks.

The administration is pushing Congress to change how the government pays for fighting wildfires. It wants to treat some fires as federal disasters. The new disaster account would cover the cost of fighting the most damaging fires, which would reduce the pressure on other parts of the Forest Service budget.

Republicans are working on proposals that would end the transfers, but they also want to make changes in federal law designed to speed up the pace of thinning projects on federal lands.

Vilsack said the Forest Service and its partner agencies have deployed record numbers of firefighters and aviation assets to deal with more than 70 large fires burning in five states.

“The current fire situation is an important reminder that every day, thousands of brave Americans step up to protect people and property,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We do everything in our power to ensure that every firefighter comes home safely, but our firefighting personnel have been particularly hard hit this year.”

Ranchers criticize forest management, firefighting tactics Fri, 4 Sep 2015 09:20:36 -0400 Dan Wheat Sean Ellis JOHN DAY, Ore. — The 105,000-acre Canyon Creek Complex fire south of John Day has burned a massive swath through grazing allotments in the Malheur National Forest, leaving ranchers worried about how they will find enough grazing land and hay to make it through the fast-approaching fall and winter.

It’s the main concern of ranchers around the West who are reeling from wildfires.

“It’s burned right through the heart of quite a few allotments,” said Seneca, Ore., rancher Alec Oliver, president of the Grant County Stockgrowers.

The fire — the largest in Oregon this year — tore through the Canyon Creek area, where it burned at least 43 homes and blackened grazing land.

“A lot of hay was lost up through that area,” Oliver said. “There are a lot of (grazing) permittees up there and … a lot of summer ground was lost this year. (They) are going to have to find somewhere else to go next year.”

As large wildfires become more the norm in Western states, ranchers who are forced to watch their livelihoods go up in smoke argue that mismanagement of federal and state lands is an underlying cause and that it’s time for government policies to change.

A little over 2.8 million acres have burned in 122 fires in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

At the Haeberle Ranch, between the towns of Okanogan and Conconully in north central Washington state, Rod Haeberle, 66, and his daughter, Nicole Kuchenbuch, 36, and son-in-law Casey Kuchenbuch, 36, voiced concerns about “mismanagement” of government lands. Their comments mirrored those of ranchers in southeastern Oregon after the massive 582,313-acre Long Draw and 430,000-acre Holloway fires of 2012.

“These fires are not a surprise for those of us who live and work in Eastern Washington. We’ve been warning about the potential disastrous effects of federal and state management policies for many years,” said Nicole Kuchenbuch.

Agencies have allowed forests to become overgrown and unhealthy, consumed by underbrush that’s fuel for fires, she said.

“Agencies tell us to keep our cattle out of creek bottoms but there’s no grass elsewhere because they don’t thin forests,” she said.

Sod was so thick in Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife grasslands from 20 years of no cattle grazing that it took bulldozers two and three passes to cut fire lines to soil, she said, adding that sod can be a fuel that’s almost impossible for firefighters to extinguish.

While ranchers have lobbied for change, nothing happens because of the political strength of environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act, the Kuchenbuchs said.

Haeberle calls them “asphalites — born on asphalt, raised on concrete and living in a world of plastic flowers.”

Sandra Kaiser, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, said the agency is fully on board with thinning forests to decrease their fire fuel load.

“Last biennium we requested $20 million from the Legislature and got $10 million for forest health treatment and thinning,” she said. “It’s essential to preparing landscape to resist fire. It’s work that needs to be done.”

About 370 miles to the south, near John Day, Ore., retired U.S. Bureau of Land Management forester Bob Vidourek, pointed out the difference in the way federal forests were formerly managed and how they are managed today.

He oversaw projects from 2003 to 2007 that thinned some of the 2,500 acres of BLM land that abuts U.S. Forest Service and private land on Little Creek Mountain. The projects included a timber sale, thinning stands and clearing out a large amount of slash.

On Friday, the Canyon Creek fire roared through Forest Service land and crested Little Creek Mountain. Vidourek’s home was put on a Level 3 “leave immediately” evacuation order but he wasn’t worried. The BLM land that had been thinned and cleaned up several years earlier was separating the blaze from his home.

“I was never really worried,” he said. “I knew if it got into that stand, it wouldn’t burn too hot.”

The fire did burn some of the BLM land but slowed considerably and stopped 1,000 feet from Vidourek’s house.

Vidourek said he faced many hurdles when he tried to get the forest management projects going but was eventually able to overcome them.

“I’m confident that the work we did probably saved some of these houses,” he said, pointing to other nearby homes. The fire “killed everything on the other side of the mountain. I’m confident the work we did slowed the fire down.”

Beside land mismanagement, ranchers involved in Western fires in recent years allege state and federal miscues in fighting fires while praising efforts of local firefighters.

In the Long Draw and Holloway fires in Oregon three years ago, ranchers accused the BLM of letting land burn to expand designated wilderness areas. The BLM denied it.

In Washington’s 256,108-acre Carlton fire last year, many ranchers and others believe the DNR let the fire go to gain more federal dollars. More than 200 landowners are preparing to file a lawsuit seeking more than $75 million in damages for what their attorney says was “a series of intentional and negligent actions.”

In this year’s Okanogan fire, a Pine Creek rancher, Gerald Scholz, blamed DNR backburning for the loss of his grazing land, timber and hay. He treated cattle with burned feet and sold others, saying he would have to reduce his herd from 700 to 200 for winter.

“Gerald told them not to backburn anything up here. He’s been fighting fire 30 years and was adamant we didn’t need it,” said his wife, Bobbi.

Kaiser, the DNR spokeswoman, said she would have to find out the facts of the situation before commenting.

Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro said he repeatedly asked an agency — he declined to say which one — not to backburn in Pine Canyon, but it did. As a result, the dozen or so ranches along Pine Creek lost their spring and fall grazing ground.

“The fire swept around the east side and five hours after they did that burnout they were evacuating Pine Creek, Crumbacher development and Riverside,” DeTro said.

DNR stepped up on early lightning strikes, using smoke jumpers on initial attacks, DeTro said. “Then it had one or two major screw-ups that turned into catastrophic situations.”

Things went well once Type 1 management teams, which handle major wildfires, arrived, he said.

DNR contracted with Gebbers Farms, of Brewster, which used six Caterpillar D-8 bulldozers to build and hold a line on the south of the fire, he said.

There are a lot of good firefighters but there was lack of coordination and delays of engagement, said rancher Casey Kuchenbuch.

“We had a tough decision. Move our cows and save them or go build a Cat line,” Kuchenbuch said. “I was promised by a head official he would have a Cat up there. It never happened. We saved our cows. If I’d gone and had Gebbers with me there’s a high percentage chance I might have save the rest of my summer range....”

“We recognize they had limited resources and a massive fire,” Haeberle said.

But a Forest Service consultant turned around Gebbers’ Cats and “they backburned the rest of our summer range and our cabin to try to save the town,” Haeberle said.

State and federal firefighters went back to camp for the night, but local firefighters and volunteers held lines all night because “it was our land and our homes,” Nicole Kuchenbuch said.

Haeberle lost all of his 6,000 acres of spring and fall pastures on the hillsides on both sides of the still green valley floor where their Black Angus now graze fields intended for hay and fall forage. He lost half his Forest Service grazing allotment summer range, 200 tons of premium alfalfa hay and many miles of fencing that costs about $20,000 per mile.

They rescued 120 cow-calf pairs but 60 are missing. They figure they will have to reduce their herd of 425 pairs and 100 replacement heifers and buy up to 750 tons of hay at about $150,000 to compensate for three months of extra feeding, split between fall and spring. Usually, they are self-sufficient with their own hay and grazing.

Because of the fire damage, their grazing will be drastically reduced for two or three years.

Well over 200 cattle, hay and hobby ranches were impacted by the Okanogan, Tunk and North Star fires, DeTro said. Of that, about 20 are operations with more than 200 head of cattle that lost their spring and fall pastures, portions or all of grazing allotments and haystacks.

Cass Gebbers, co-owner of Gebbers Farms and Gamble Land & Timber, said he lost most of the rest of his DNR grazing allotments in this year’s fire that he didn’t lose in the Carlton fire last year.

Altogether, 95 percent of his allotments are burned out, and this year so far he has 18 cows dead, 33 badly maimed and 46 pairs and 10 bred heifers missing, he said.

“We barely got out of the west fork of Rock Creek (gathering cattle) when the fire boiled out of there. It sounded like a jet engine,” Gebbers said.

Early on, lightning ignited just inside the “donut hole,” acres of his private range he saved last year. “We threw everything we had on it and nailed it in five to 10 acres just an hour before high winds hit,” he said.

Gebbers’ Cats built and held a line on the south side of the fire, just north of Highway 20, and received “much more government support in holding it” than they did last year, he said.

“Government guys were stretched real thin. The morning of the Chelan Reach fire, fires were popping everywhere (from lightning) and guys were scrambling,” he said.

About 130 miles to the northeast in Lauier, Wash., rancher Len McIrvin said the Stickpin, Graves Mountain and Renner Lake fires came together on his range. He said he’s losing about 200,000 acres of grazing allotments, but saved 300 to 400 head of cattle and doesn’t know the fate of 300 to 400 others.

“Up to now, no one’s really done anything to stop the fires. It’s just protecting houses. It’s a let-burn policy. It’s the plan all along. It’s a proposed wilderness area so they (Forest Service) wouldn’t put a bulldozer in there. Later they did,” McIrvin said.

“All these fires, the last 20 years they let them burn. They refuse to come in and stomp out a little lightning strike. They use all the resources to save a little shack and lose billions of dollars of livestock and timber,” he said.

He agreed with the Kuchenbuchs that the underlying problem is build up of forest and sod fuel loads from no logging, thinning and grazing.

“A big sign that went up this spring in Colville says, ‘Public lands. Log it, graze it or watch it burn,’” he said.

Helping out

Help has come from many directions.

At the request of the Okanogan County Cattlemen’s Association, Monte and Laurie Andrews, owners of Ag-Tech Farm Services in Okanogan, are coordinating hay that’s been donated from as far away as Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg and Mt. Vernon.

As of Aug. 31, the feed store had received about 1,000 tons.

“Cattle loss is not as great as what we first thought it would be, maybe 5 percent, but a lot of ranchers haven’t found their cattle yet,” Monte Andrews said.

In The Dalles, Ore., Elizabeth Turner offered 1,200 acres of dry pasture. Depending on the weather, it could hold 50 to 100 pair for two months and with wheat stubble straw maybe longer, she said.

Oregon Country Natural Beef Co-op is making a list of resources, she said.

“My hope is (burned out) ranchers don’t have to sell their cows, because once you sell them it’s almost impossible to buy bred cows later,” Turner said. “If there’s enough resources to move those animals around and not sell them, it’s better for feedlots and everyone in the Northwest.”

A lot of the help came in the form of neighbors helping one another. Alec Oliver, the Seneca, Ore., rancher, said a lot of ranchers dropped what they were doing and rushed to help him and others who were fighting to protect their operations.

“It’s pretty shocking how many people dropped everything they were doing and came and helped us out,” he said. “We had a pile of help.”

Capital Press staff writer Dan Wheat reported from Okanogan, Wash., and staff writer Sean Ellis reported from John Day, Ore.

Portland daily grain report Fri, 4 Sep 2015 10:38:03 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, Sept. 4, 2015

USDA Market News

All Bids in dollars per bushel. Bids are limited and not fully established in early trading.

Bids for grains delivered to Portland, Oregon in dollars per bushel.

In early trading December wheat futures trended 1.75 to five cents per bushel higher compared to Thursday’s closes.

Bids for US 1 Soft White Wheat delivered to Portland in unit trains and barges for September delivery were not available for ordinary protein.

Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 protein were not well tested in early trading but were indicated as steady to higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for September delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for

September delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids. Some exporters are not issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for US 2 Yellow Corn delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during September trended steady compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains during September were lower in early trading.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel US 1 Soft White Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Sep NA

Oct NA

Nov NA

Dec NA

Jan NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Sep mostly 6.3900, ranging 6.2200-6.5200

Oct 6.2200-6.4200

Nov 6.2200-6.5400

Dec 6.2200-6.5400

Jan NA

US 1 White Club Wheat - delivered by Unit Trains and Barges

Ordinary protein

Sep NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Sep mostly 7.5500, ranging 7.2700-7.9200

US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat - (Exporter bids-falling numbers of 300 or


Ordinary protein 5.2975-5.6775

11 pct protein 5.4875-5.7775

11.5 pct protein

Sep 5.4775-5.8275

Oct 5.5775-5.8275

Nov 5.6275-5.8275

Dec 5.5275-5.8275

Jan 5.7225-5.7725

12 pct protein 5.5075-5.8475

13 pct protein 5.5275-5.8875

US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat (with a minimum of 300 falling numbers, a maximum

of 0.5 part per million vomitoxin, and a maximum of one percent total damage)

13 pct protein 5.7125-5.9925

14 pct protein

Sep 6.0325-6.2325

Oct 6.0325-6.2325

Nov 5.9325-6.2325

Dec 6.0325-6.2825

Jan 6.1825-6.3825

15 pct protein 6.1925-6.3825

16 pct protein 6.3525-6.5825

US 2 Yellow Corn

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Sep 4.4150-4.4450

Oct 4.3650-4.4150

Nov 4.3950-4.4250

Dec 4.4150-4.4450

Jan 4.5400-4.5800

Feb 4.5500-4.5900

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

Shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Sep 9.6350-9.6650

Oct 9.6350-9.6850

Nov 9.6650-9.7250

Dec 9.7025-9.7525

Jan 9.7025-9.7525

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.6300

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Aug 2015

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 5.5500

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 5.4400

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 5.6300

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 6.1100

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

State climatologist, weather service tamp down El Nino expectations Fri, 4 Sep 2015 10:23:17 -0400 Tim Hearden SACRAMENTO — State Climatologist Michael Anderson is teaming with the National Weather Service to urge continued water conservation amid weather conditions that could bring a wet winter.

Anderson and Michelle Mead, the weather service’s warning coordinator in Sacramento, have put out a short video explaining what the El Nino weather pattern is and how it could affect the four-year drought.

El Nino is a warming of the ocean at the equator which interacts with the atmosphere, changing the jet stream that drives the winter storm track, Mead explained in the video posted on YouTube.

There have been six El Nino periods since 1950, Anderson told viewers, and all six have produced above-average precipitation in Southern California.

“There’s no reason to believe this year won’t be a seventh,” he said. However, there’s far from a guarantee the El Nino will produce more rainfall or snow in Northern California, where the state’s key reservoirs are, he said.

“Remember it has taken us four winters to get into this drought, and most of the state has lost an entire year of rainfall and some areas have lost two,” Anderson said. “While we could see some significant rain and snow develop this winter, it is not a certain outcome.”

The message continues a push by state and federal weather experts to tamp down expectations amid media hype over El Nino conditions that are expected to be the strongest in decades. El Nino years typically producer higher levels of precipitation in the U.S. Southwest and drier conditions in the Pacific Northwest, with Northern California having 50-50 chances of either.

“We all know that El Nino is all over the news lately,” Mead said in an email. “We’ve been working with (the state Department of Water Resources) on getting consistent messaging about El Nino and what it could mean for California.”

Among growers, hopes for robust winter storms remain high — particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, where the citrus-growing region of Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties have received no federal surface water in the last two years.

“All we can do is pray,” said Laura Brown, director of government affairs for the Exeter-based growers’ group California Citrus Mutual.

While Brown likes the reports she’s been hearing about a strong El Nino, she’s been trying not to get her hopes up, she said.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” she said.

Japanese group sues to stop TPP talks Fri, 4 Sep 2015 10:15:08 -0400 RICHARD SMITH TOKYO — A former Japanese agricultural minister is leading a legal challenge of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement that is being negotiated by 12 nations, including the U.S. and Japan.

Masahiko Yamada is leading a group of 1,063 people that have filed a 45,650,000 yen — about $370,000 — lawsuit against the Japanese government in Tokyo District Court.

The group aims to halt the Japanese government’s participation in the TPP negotiations on constitutional grounds.

A 2005 pact between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, the TPP originally called for the 90 percent reduction of all tariffs between member countries by 2006. Tariffs were to decrease to zero by this year.

In the past few years, the U.S., Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam have been negotiating to join the TPP.

The plaintiffs suing the government include eight Japanese parliament members, 157 lawyers, farmers and celebrities including writers, musicians and actors.

The group also includes journalists and individual representatives of consumer cooperatives, labor unions and farming associations.

The plaintiffs demand the Japanese government be enjoined from negotiating the TPP, a declaration and confirmation that the government’s negotiating the trade pact violates the constitution of Japan and that the government pay each plaintiff 10,000 yen, or about $81.

Yamada was minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from 2009 to 2010 under the Democratic Party of Japan administration.

The former rancher left the party in 2012 over then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to participate in the TPP negotiations.

Yamada’s group opposes the TPP on constitutional grounds, arguing the Diet — the Japanese parliament — is the highest organ of state power, and shall be the sole lawmaking organ of the state and that the cabinet, upon concluding any treaty, must obtain the Parliament’s approval.

The TPP forces participating countries to review all their laws to determine if they are consistent with the trade agreement and to revise them if they are not.

They also argue consumers would be negatively affected by the trade pact, as it would do away with ingredient lists. This would cause problems for the 4.5 percent of Japanese children who suffer from allergies to dairy, wheat, peanuts or emulsifiers, Yamada said in an interview with Capital Press.

“If children with dairy allergies eat sweets containing cheese, they may die,” he said.

Because of the TPP, sanitary and phytosanitary standards will also be lowered, he argues.

For example, peanuts coming in from the U.S. may have been sprayed with certain pesticides, the use of which has not yet been decided in Japan by the government, and nobody will even know, Yamada said.

“We will have to show scientific evidence that the pesticides are bad for health, and meanwhile, people will be consuming them,” he said. “Putting Japanese agriculture under pressure, the TPP also goes against constitutional guarantees of Japanese people’s right to a stable supply of food, as well as the right of agricultural workers to make their living through agriculture and dairy farming.”

Council seeks to add faba bean, lupine to list Fri, 4 Sep 2015 10:11:34 -0400 Matw Weaver The Washington Dry Pea and Lentil Commission will ask the state Department of Agriculture to include the pulse crops dried faba beans and lupine, a forage and grain legume.

The crops are already part of Montana and North Dakota commissions, said Todd Scholz, vice president of research and member services for the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.

Faba beans could fill a market niche when pulses are ground up to make protein concentrates, flour and starch, known as fractionization.

“We’re on the eve of that industry,” Scholz said. “We wanted to make sure we’re going to be able to help out the faba bean growers we see in the future, and provide better varieties and improved end-use characteristics.”

The commission’s proposal includes an increase in grower assessments from 1 to 2 percent for three years to help pay for marketing. WSDA could release ballots in mid-October, Scholz said.

The assessments would also help establish an endowed chair for pulse crops at Washington State University.

Washington dry pea, lentil commission eyes name change Fri, 4 Sep 2015 10:02:40 -0400 Matw Weaver The Washington Dry Pea and Lentil Commission may change its name to the Washington Pulse Crops Commission. The switch would coordinate with a year-long United Nations campaign to increase awareness of pulse crops.

The commission will propose the change during a rulemaking hearing at 9 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Whitman County Public Service Building, 310 N. Main St., Colfax, Wash.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture director will hear from producers and decide whether to move forward with the request. Growers will have an opportunity to comment before the commission moves ahead with a referendum, which requires a 60 percent majority of producers approving the change, said Todd Scholz, vice president of research and member services at the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council.

The commission is changing its name to coordinate with the U.N. International Year of Pulses in 2016, Scholz said. The campaign conveys to the public a message about the healthfulness of pulses and encourages increased use.

“The problem with ‘pulse’ is it’s a totally undefined term,” Scholz said. “If you ask a consumer what’s a pulse, probably they don’t know. The disadvantage is, nobody knows what a pulse is.”

However, a blank slate could be a positive, according to the advertising firm Leo Burnett, he said.

“They actually think the fact it’s an undefined term for food gives us an advantage,” Scholz said. “We can define the term, we can truly make pulses the future of food.”

“I think this is a better description of what we do and what we raise,” said Scot Cocking, chairman of the commission and a Farmington, Wash., farmer.

He believes the name change is likely. He doesn’t have an estimated cost, but expects it to be minimal.

“You’ve got to change letterhead and a sign outside the office — I just don’t think it’s going to be too much,” he said.

Palouse, Wash., pulse grower Aaron Flansburg, a member of the commission, doesn’t see a downside to the change.

“As our industry has expanded, there’s more commodities to come under the umbrella,” he said. “I’m also a chickpea grower, so not having that in the title, it kind of misses a large segment of our industry.”

In December, the Western Pea and Lentil Growers Association will also vote on changing its name to the Western Pulse Growers Association, Scholz said.

The council hasn’t discussed changing its name, too, but Scholz said it could be considered as early as November.

Hot, dry weather keeps stripe rust levels low Fri, 4 Sep 2015 09:45:19 -0400 Matw Weaver Dry weather helped keep stripe rust from infecting spring wheat in the Northwest this year, a USDA expert says.

The disease got off to an early start in several locations, reaching severe levels in the Pullman and Walla Walla, Wash., winter wheat crops, said USDA Agricultural Research Service plant research geneticist Xianming Chen.

But as the weather got hotter, the rust stopped developing.

“Usually, when stripe rust is severe on winter wheat, spring wheat is likely to get severe rust, but some years can be different, like this year,” Chen said.

Early applications of fungicide and an early harvest also played a part in easing stripe rust pressure.

Chen doesn’t expect many rust spores to be in the air now, except in some locations in higher elevations that have received more moisture.

Current signs point to a lighter rust level next year, but it’s too early to tell for sure, Chen said. Winter and spring conditions will be a determining factor.

“Rust is low, but it will never completely go away from this area,” he said.

In recent years, stripe rust races in the region have become the same as races elsewhere in the U.S. In the past, the Northwest hosted unique races. Some cultivars that were susceptible to the region-specific races have regained their resistance, Chen said.

Chen recommends that farmers select resistant wheat varieties. They can range from a level of 1 to 9 on susceptibility, with 1 being most resistant and 9 being most susceptible. Chen advises farmers to choose varieties in the 1-to-4 range.

Promotion leaves tree fruit endowed chair open Fri, 4 Sep 2015 09:00:26 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — An endowed chair faculty position at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee maybe refocused following the promotion of the person who has held the job for the last two years.

Desmond Layne, endowed chair, professor of pomology and tree fruit extension leader at the center, became the new director of the WSU Agricultural and Food Systems and Integrated Plant Sciences programs in Pullman on Sept. 1.

The programs have more than 400 students and Layne will be teaching and involved in curriculum development and program assessment.

The move leaves vacant Layne’s position in Wenatchee. It will be up to WSU administrators and the WSU Tree Fruit Endowment Advisory Committee to decide what happens with industry endowment fund dollars that supported it, said Jim McFerson, center director and manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

The position could be changed depending on industry needs, said Jake Gutzwiler, a committee member and quality control manager at Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee.

The seven-member committee is made up of industry members. Gutzwiler said he has no opinion right now on what should be done. “I need to look at it more,” he said.

Rhizosphere ecology (soils and roots) and post-harvest systems are the next two endowed chair positions to be activated, Gutzwiler said. Searches are underway, or soon will be, for people to fill those positions, he said.

WSU pays the salaries and benefits of the endowed chairs but the industry endowment pays for support staff.

The state’s apple and pear growers voted in 2011 and cherry growers voted in 2013 to assess their tonnage for eight years to raise $32 million for endowments, whose interest earnings support personnel and equipment for six faculty positions and research orchard operations.

Layne was state extension horticulture program leader at Clemson University in South Carolina before he was hired at WSU in 2013 at $167,693 per year.

Wade named chairman of U.S. Apple board Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:47:53 -0400 WENATCHEE, Wash. — Mike Wade, general manager of Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee, became chairman of the U.S. Apple Association at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago in August.

Wade succeeds Mark Nicholson, of Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, N.Y.

Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton, Wash., became vice chairman. Mark Boyer, of Ridgetop Orchards, Fishertown, Pa., became secretary. David Douglas, president of Douglas Fruit Co., Pasco, Wash., is a new board member. Steve Smith, of Yakima Fresh, Yakima, Wash., is among returning members.

— Dan Wheat

Snow may cool off Montana wildfires Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:40:57 -0400 HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Cooler temperatures and rain that may upset some Labor Day Weekend recreational activities will be welcome relief for crews battling wildfires in western Montana.

The National Weather Service says up to 2 inches of rain and temperatures in the 50s are forecast in western and north-central Montana, while up to 2 inches of snow could fall in the higher elevations.

Evacuation notices have been lifted in the Essex, Tarkio and Holter Lake areas and some forest lands have been re-opened.

However, fire officials caution that the weekend weather may not be enough to end the fire season.

Northern Rockies Coordination Center meteorologist Mike Richmond says the vegetation on the Rocky Mountain Front and the plains is dead, so it won’t absorb much moisture. A couple of windy days could dry things out again.

Add bears to the list of dangers firefighters face Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:27:52 -0400 BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials have euthanized a black bear believed to have bitten a sleeping wildland firefighter.

According to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the bear bit the snoozing firefighter Tuesday evening while he was resting in a small tent in central Idaho. The region is currently experiencing several catastrophic wildfires, with hundreds of firefighters battling to put out the flames.

The firefighter, whose name has not been released, was taken to a hospital for minor wounds and has since been released. It was not immediately clear where the firefighter had been bitten.

Fish and Game officials say they trapped and euthanized a bear on Wednesday. However, the department is attempting a DNA test to confirm they put down the same bear involved in the biting.

Rain helps firefighters on west-central Idaho blaze Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:26:18 -0400 BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Rain is helping about 1,100 firefighters battling a large blaze Friday in west-central Idaho.

Fire managers say fire behavior on the 148-square-mile fire three miles east of Riggins has been reduced to smoldering and creeping activity. The fire is 30 percent contained.

However, fire managers say the rains could cause rock slides in areas that burned and crews are assessing the danger.

Crews are also protecting buildings along the Salmon River and U.S. Highway 95 in case the fire picks up again.

In northern Idaho, a 12-square-mile wildfire has destroyed a fire lookout near the town of Powell where residents have been told to be alert in case they have to evacuate.

Fire managers say about 500 firefighters are trying to stop the fire from reaching private lands.

Man who started southwest Idaho wildfire to be fined Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:24:58 -0400 BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Authorities say a mountain biker who started a 73-acre wildfire in southwest Idaho after lighting his toilet paper on fire could be faced with all or part of the costs of extinguishing the blaze.

The Idaho Statesman reports U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials say the costs will likely total between $50,000 and $75,000, but they could end up being higher.

Officials say the cyclist, who hasn’t been named, had stopped to defecate in a ravine and tried to burn his toilet paper when the fire got out of hand.

The July 22 fire in the Hulls Gulch area required several agencies to contain. Four air tankers and three helicopters were also utilized.

Officials say the biker’s side of the story will be considered in determining the fine.

$38 million freeway wildlife corridor is feasible, study says Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:23:31 -0400 LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mountain lions and other animals would be able to cross a busy Southern California freeway and find new homes if the state adopts a proposal to build a long-planned wildlife bridge, according to a new study.

The landscaped animal overpass on State Route 101 north of Los Angeles would cost up to $38 million, according to Caltrans research released Thursday by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.

The 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long corridor would allow big cats and other wildlife to roam between the Santa Monica Mountains, which are hemmed in by freeways and suburban development, and less constrained wilderness areas to the north.

Experts say dispersing mountain lions is critical for preventing inbreeding but at least a dozen have been killed by traffic in the area since 2002.

State and federal legislators have endorsed a wildlife corridor in Liberty Canyon near Agoura Hills.

“A secure pathway also is essential to protect motorists, who could be killed or injured by collisions with animals,” said state Sen. Fran Pavley, who lives near the proposed overpass.

At the proposed site, the highway has 10 lanes of pavement, including exit lanes.

Scientists long ago identified Liberty Canyon as the optimal location to build a wildlife passage because of the large swaths of protected public land on either side of the freeway.

State transportation officials will now begin the next stage in the process, which is the preparation of an environmental impact document. Public hearings will be held through 2017.

Fired regulator: Brown pushed to waive aquifer safeguards Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:16:22 -0400 ELLEN KNICKMEYER SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California’s top oil and gas regulators repeatedly warned Gov. Jerry Brown’s senior aides in 2011 that the governor’s orders to override key safeguards in granting oil industry permits would violate state and federal laws protecting the state’s groundwater from contamination, one of the former officials has testified.

Brown fired the regulators on Nov. 3, 2011, one day after what the fired official says was a final order from the governor to bypass safety provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in granting permits to oil companies for oilfield injection wells. Brown later boasted publicly that the dismissals led to a speed-up of oilfield permitting.

Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, said Thursday that the allegations, contained in a newly filed court declaration by Derek Chernow, Brown’s fired acting director of the state Department of Conservation, were “baseless.”

This year, however, the state acknowledged that hundreds of the oilfield operations approved after the firings are now polluting the state’s federally protected underground supplies of water for drinking and irrigation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has now given the state until 2017 to resolve what state officials conceded were more than 2,000 permits the state improperly gave oil companies to inject oilfield production fluid and waste into protected water aquifers. An earlier AP analysis of the state permits found more than 40 percent of those were granted in the four years since Brown took office.

Chernow’s declaration, obtained by the Associated Press, was contained in an Aug. 21 court filing in a lawsuit brought by a group of Central Valley farmers who allege that oil production approved by Brown’s administration has contaminated their water wells. The lawsuit also cites at least $750,000 in contributions that oil companies made within months of the firings to what was then Brown’s campaign for a state tax increase.

Chernow’s statement describes for the first time the alleged back story of the controversial permit approvals. He declined comment. Elena Miller, who was fired as the state’s oil and gas supervisor the same day as Chernow, did not respond to requests for comment.

Over the years, Brown openly boasted that he dismissed the two regulators to speed up the granting of oilfield permits in the nation’s third biggest oil producing state. His actions appeared at odds with Brown’s image as a leading proponent of renewable energy and reduced fossil fuel consumption who recently met with Pope Francis on climate change.

Westrup, Brown’s aide, said Thursday that a current campaign by Brown to as much as halve consumption of climate-changing fossil fuels in the state, and the oil industry’s fight against Brown’s climate-change campaign, shows “where the administration stands and what it’s fighting for.”

“The expectation — clearly communicated — was and always has been full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Westrup said.

Regarding the financial and public support that the oil industry lent Brown’s 2012 campaign for a state tax increase after Brown fired the two state regulators, Westrup said, “the governor’s focus is doing what’s best for California, and that’s what informs his decisions.”

The firings occurred as the governor was scrambling to drum up energy sources, jobs and business and to win support for the ultimately successful statewide vote on tax increases to tackle budget woes.

Today, with the state in an historic four-year drought and a state of emergency declared by Brown, protecting the adequacy and purity of water supplies for farms and cities is a paramount priority.

In the declaration in the farmers’ case now, Chernow said he and Miller were under intense pressure from the oil industry as well as the Brown administration to relax permitting standards for injection wells that oil companies use to pump production fluid and waste underground.

Chernow testified he was in the office of John Laird, Brown’s secretary of Natural Resources, in early October 2011 when Laird took a call from Brown. Hanging up, Laird said, Brown had relayed just receiving a call from former Gov. Gray Davis, then acting as legal counsel for Occidental Petroleum, the country’s fourth-biggest oil company.

Brown said Davis and Occidental had demanded Brown fire Chernow and Miller over what Occidental complained was then the slow pace of issuing drilling permits, according to Chernow.

Davis declined comment Thursday.

A few weeks later, on Nov. 2, 2011, Chernow and Miller received a call from Brown’s energy adviser, Cliff Rechtschaffen, who urged the two oil-and-gas regulators to “immediately fast-track” approval of new oilfield permits, according to Chernow’s filing.

Miller replied that what Brown aides and the oil industry were pressing for “violated the Safe Drinking Water Act, and that the EPA agreed” with that conclusion, Chernow said. In response, according to Chernow, Rechtschaffen told them “this was an order from Governor Brown, and must be obeyed.”

Chernow and Miller were fired the following day.

Memos sent to Department of Conservation staff the next month —which were obtained through state public records laws by lawyers for the farmers — allegedly detail some ways state oilfield regulators were told they could now bypass some federally mandated environmental reviews and approve permits.

Robert Stern, former general counsel of the state’s ethics agency and the architect of a 1970s state political reform act, said there was nothing illegal about Brown receiving the oil industry contributions for his tax campaign unless they were explicitly in return for firing the oil regulators.

The state, under increasing pressure from the EPA, this year and last ordered the shutdown of 23 improperly permitted oilfield wells posing the most immediate threat to nearby water wells.

Current officials in the Department of Conservation said they believe the actual number of flawed permits granted under Brown is lower than the 46 percent the state records show, but they have not provided alternate figures.

The state improperly issued permits, they said, because of misunderstandings and poor record-keeping, rather than willful decisions by Brown’s administration.

The safeguards at issue in the alleged permitting dispute were a “very fundamental” part of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act’s protections against oilfield contamination, said David Albright, manager of the EPA’s California groundwater office, this week.

California “has a huge amount of work to do” to bring its regulation of oilfield injection wells into compliance with federal law, said Jared Blumenfeld, the regional EPA administrator in California. Blumenfeld cited a “sea change” over the past year in state compliance efforts, however.

Executives of Occidental and Aera Energy at the time thanked Brown for his “involvement” in the oilfield permitting process, as Occidental CEO Steven Chazren noted in a January 2012 call with financial analysts, two months after top regulators were fired.

That month, Occidental became the first major oil company to come out in support of the Brown’s tax measure and donated the first of $500,000 to Brown’s campaign for the tax referendum. A month later, Aera donated $250,000.

Margita Thompson, a spokeswoman at what is now the independent California spin-off of Occidental, California Resources Council, said that all the farmers’ allegations were “wholly without merit.” Cindy Pollard, spokeswoman for Aera, said the company often donates to revenue-raising state campaigns. “Aera’s contributions were not quid pro quo,” she said.