Capital Press | Capital Press Sun, 29 Mar 2015 02:46:02 -0400 en Capital Press | New bioengineering lab benefits UMass Dartmouth students Mon, 23 Mar 2015 08:17:13 -0400 AUDITI GUHAThe Standard-Times DARTMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — The future is now at UMass Dartmouth’s bioengineering lab, where students and staff are working on things that were once the stuff of science fiction.

And they’re doing it in a lab that allows them the space and equipment to do cutting-edge research in a field that’s the fastest-growing major at UMass Dartmouth.

“I think it’s changed dramatically,” said Nick Macedo, 21, a senior working on cell cultures in the lab that was inaugurated last September on the second floor of the former textile building.

Previously, a group of bioengineering students would huddle around a teacher in a small space. Now they have individualized teaching because everyone gets their own spot and instruments, Macedo said. It’s the only place on campus where Macedo said he can work on cell and tissue cultures, a major skill in today’s world that will make him more attractive in the job market or when he applies for graduate school.

The old lab was shared with other majors and did not have the space and equipment the new one has, said Ph.D. scholar Abdulrahman Kehail, 27, whose research is focused on producing bioplastics from bacteria. “It has a lot of windows and that really affects my mood,” he said. Researchers typically spend long hours in the lab and the old one was windowless. “I feel this new space will attract many bioengineering grad students to do their research at UMass Dartmouth.”

Six faculty members, four Ph.D. students and about 129 undergraduates currently use the teaching and research spaces created, said Tracie Ferreira, associate professor of bioengineering, a 4-year-old major at the university.

“It’s much easier for students to get an idea of the work they can do during campus visits and for students to work on their research projects,” she said. “One of the biggest growing fields is tissue engineering and stem cells. No other space in the university allows students to do that kind of work.”

“Bioengineering is a versatile, multidisciplinary field,” said assistant professor Christopher Brigham in an email. “We want to have a multipartite approach to education and research, including but not limited to electronic medical devices, tissue engineering, and biomanufacturing/fermentation.”

Brigham said he studies bacteria that come from the soil or other natural environments that produce compounds. His group works on microbial production of a type of polymers that can be used as raw material for medical implants and sutures, as well as alcohol and lipid-based biofuels.

His work captured the attention of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a brief tour of the lab last week.

“You’re the future on this kind of work and I want to see this happen,” Warren said. “You can see the whole agriculture and biotech industry being interested in this.”

Assistant professor Milana Vasudev, who shares a lab with Brigham, said she likes that there is enough bench space for students to set up their own work, as well as a separate cell culture room that researchers share. The lab also provides her students the opportunity to learn techniques such as chemical synthesis, cell culture, and mechanical and electrical characterization.

Students are currently working on genetic engineering techniques, examining drug release and properties of various biomaterials, modeling and 3D printing and cancer cell growth and research. Seniors use the lab space for their senior capstone design projects, which range from medical devices to cell and tissue engineering.

The median annual wage for biomedical engineers was $86,960 in May 2012. Employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than other occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Warm, dry weather pushes strawberry season Fri, 27 Mar 2015 15:28:41 -0400 Tim Hearden WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Warm afternoons and a lack of rainfall have produced a blistering start for California strawberry production in 2015, as the peak season in the state’s prime growing regions is arriving about a month earlier than normal.

Growers produced more than 24.6 million flats of strawberries as of March 21, up about 15 percent from the nearly 21.4 million trays produced in the same period last year, according to the California Strawberry Commission.

A big contributor to the increase has been the Watsonville region, which has already turned out more than 1 million trays after having only produced 171,000 by mid-March last year and fewer than 22,000 by the same point in 2013, the commission reported.

As it is, harvests are in high gear in all three of California’s prime growing areas — around Watsonville, Santa Maria and Oxnard — while such activity often doesn’t get going until late April or early May.

“Often early in the season as the crop starts to come here in Watsonville, a good rain will set it back,” commission spokeswoman Carolyn O’Donnell said. “But what we’re seeing is Santa Maria and Watsonville coming into production about four weeks earlier than usual.”

The brisk pace of production offers a promising start for growers after they just missed a record in 2014 for only the second time in the last nine years. Production in 2014 finished at 191.9 million trays for the year — a slight decline from the nearly 194.8 million flats produced in 2013.

The veritable boom in yields also comes despite an anticipated decline in planted acreage in 2015. Growers were expected to plant 37,439 acres of strawberries this year, down from last year’s total of 38,937 and from the 2013 total acreage of 40,816, according to the strawberry commission.

Growers have credited better yields from new varieties with helping them keep pace with demand amid a decline in acreage, which has been prompted partly by water issues and labor shortages.

But weather is typically the main factor that determines yields, O’Donnell said. If the weather holds up, the brisk pace could continue through the season, she said.

“The beginning of the year is always very variable because the weather is less predictable in the early months of the year,” she said. “If we get a surprise rainstorm somewhere along the line, it’ll set things back. Then depending on when the rains start in the fall, that will depend on how the season ends also.”

With perennial rice at hand, is perennial wheat far behind? Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:45:40 -0400 Matw Weaver Perennial rice may soon become available to farmers in China and Australia, but researchers say perennial wheat is a decade or more from introduction.

Perennial rice is bred to regrow after harvest over several growing seasons, said Tim Crews, director of research at the nonprofit Land Institute in Salina, Kan.

A perennial rice crop would reduce labor, input costs and weed pressure, he said.

“We don’t know how many seasons the current lines will produce, but we know that at least four currently is what’s been achieved,” Crews said. “The long-term goal would be to have them produce for quite some time, repeatedly, year after year.”

The institute provided some funding for research and visited test sites to monitor progress at the Food Crops Research Institute of the Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences in China.

Perennial rice may soon be released in China, said Len Wade, strategic research professor at Charles Sturt University in Australia. He is also involved in the rice trials.

A long-standing goal for the grains industry, perennial wheat, is still under development, Wade said. The wheat genome is far more complex than that of rice.

In the United States, Stephen Jones, director of Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon, Wash., estimated perennial wheat will become available in 10 to 15 years. Jones’ team is looking at the forage value of perennials. He is involved in a perennial wheat project headed by University of Georgia researchers.

Perennial rice research is also underway at the University of Illinois.

Crews said the researchers’ approaches are similar, but there’s no direct link between perennial wheat and perennial rice.

However, any progress in one project informs the other, he said, noting the Chinese institute is also making good strides on perennial wheat.

“The more people thinking about both of the crops, the better,” he said.

“(Perennial wheat) could quickly accelerate if we understood some things about it that we don’t quite yet understand,” Crews said. “It could have a quantum leap or it could actually take quite a bit more time.”

Planning grant to help city untangle rail congestion Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:55:13 -0400 Matw Weaver A $50,000 planning grant from the state will help the city of Connell, Wash., determine how to resolve a bottleneck for rail traffic in the area.

Using the Community Economic Revitalization Board grant, the city will hire a rail planning consultant, said Jed Crowther, city administrator. The study will be completed by the end of the year.

The short-line Columbia Basin Railroad and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s Lakeside Subdivision line intersect at an interchange in Connell.

Most longer trains come from the north, but have to enter Connell from the south because of the way the rail interchange is designed. That means trains must travel an extra 35 miles south to Pasco and before returning to Connell.

Pat Boss, a consultant for Columbia Basin Railroad, said his company has problems getting rail cars in and out of Connell because of congestion, and BNSF is building a second track from Spokane to Pasco, Wash., that will run through Connell. The double track is likely to reach Connell within the next year, Boss said.

Boss said possible rail projects at the Moses Lake and Warden port districts will generate even more traffic through the Connell interchange.

“It was built about 80 years ago,” Boss said. “It wasn’t set up to handle 10,000 rail cars a year.”

The Columbia Basin which links Spokane and Pasco, Wash. line’s traffic is half regional agriculture and half industrial, he said.

The grant will allow Connell to determine the costs of addressing the railroad bottleneck, Boss said. A Connell rail coalition will put together a request for federal funding, he said.

Crowther said $5 million in construction funding is under review by the state House of Representatives.

“The sooner we can get a formal plan done, the easier it will be to get all of the pieces put together,” Boss said. “The good news is we’ve got everybody talking with each other.”

Apple commission not eager to promote clubs Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:26:04 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — The Washington Apple Commission discussed whether it should start promoting club varieties at its March 24 meeting but the idea didn’t appear to gain any traction.

Club varieties are those grown, packed and sold exclusively under the direction of one company versus open varieties like Red Delicious and Gala that anyone can grow, pack and sell.

The apple commission promotes nine open varieties in export markets, this year with $5.2 million in USDA Market Access Program funding and $2.2 million from a 3.5-cent per box assessment on growers.

“We don’t want club variety folks to say they pay money but get no representation,” said West Mathison, a commissioner and president of Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee. He said more club varieties are being exported and that some clubs have reached more than 1 million boxes in annual production.

Commission Chairman Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton, asked if companies charge additional fees for club promotions.

Mathison responded that companies handle that differently and that an alternative strategy would be to exclude clubs from commission assessments.

That would require a change in state law, which would be long and cumbersome, said Todd Fryhover, commission president.

Commissioner Dalton Thomas, president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, said some club varieties, such as Ambrosia, will soon expire and become open.

Commissioner Bob Mast, president of CMI International, Wenatchee, said the company is careful to keep its funds for Ambrosia, Kiku Fuji and Kanzi separate from other varieties so growers that don’t grow them don’t pay for them.

“It’s a very touchy subject with the growing community,” he said.

Commissioners Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, Brewster, and Barbara Walkenhauer, owner of Larson Fruit Co., Selah, said generic promotions do the most good.

“We shouldn’t start slicing it all up. Pretty soon (if we do that) we’ll all be mad at each other and lose market share,” Gebbers said.

Five other commissioners didn’t comment.

Later, Fryhover noted that assessment revenue from club varieties is minimal. The 3.5 cents per box assessment totals $35,000 on 1 million boxes and $3,500 on 100,000 boxes.

Monsanto fined for not reporting chemical releases Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:03:34 -0400 KEITH RIDLER BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Monsanto Co. has agreed to pay $600,000 in fines for not reporting hundreds of uncontrolled releases of toxic chemicals at its eastern Idaho phosphate plant.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced the agreement involving the biotechnology company’s Soda Springs facilities.

Federal officials say the chemicals released are hazardous and can pose serious health risks. Monsanto in a statement noted there were no allegations that the releases exceeded state of federal standards, or that they contributed to any known health concerns in the Soda Springs area.

Federal officials said the releases occurred between 2006 and 2009, with the plant emitting hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. Companies are required by law to report such releases immediately.

“Each of these chemicals are hazardous and can pose serious health risks to workers and the community if mishandled or released in an uncontrolled manner,” federal officials said in a statement.

The Soda Springs facilities are operated by P4 Production LLC, a wholly owned Monsanto subsidiary. The company said it reconciled differences with the EPA, some as early as 2009, and received the EPA’s violation notice in May 2011.

“The protection of our employees, public health and the environment is always our No. 1 priority,” said Roger Gibson, P4’s vice president of operations. “As a long-time neighbor within the Soda Springs community, we care deeply about public health and the quality of our air, land and water, and we are committed to complying fully and transparently with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Suzanne Powers, a compliance officer with the EPA, said the company came into compliance by reporting the releases that continue to occur. But instead of reporting on a daily basis, she said, the company has obtained a type of continuing release report, good for a year.

As for the chemicals being released, she said “they fall through the crack a little bit in terms of the Clean Air Act and how they’re regulated.”

That’s because several of the chemicals aren’t considered priority pollutants, EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre said.

Monsanto has worked to improve air pollution controls at the plant, the company notes on its website, installing devices in 1987 and 2006 to limit emissions.

Several companies mine phosphate ore in southeastern Idaho. Monsanto refines the material that is then used to make a variety of products, including herbicides, fire retardant and aviation fluids.

Man, 71, killed in collapse of potato cellar Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:00:14 -0400 MONTEVIEW, Idaho (AP) — The Jefferson County sheriff’s office says a 71-year-old man was killed and a younger man was injured when a potato cellar collapsed in the eastern Idaho community of Monteview.

The sheriff’s office identified the man who died Thursday as Ronald James Ball Sr.

The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that the older man and 30-year-old Eric Ball reportedly were tearing down the cellar when the frame collapsed, pinning them underneath.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Mickey Eames says people on the scene had already pulled them free when deputies arrived.

Eric Ball was taken to a hospital in Idaho Falls. A spokeswoman there said he was treated for his injuries and released.

Prairie Reserve seeks to put bison on public allotment Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:58:21 -0400 MATTHEW BROWN BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The managers of a sprawling wildlife reserve in north-east Montana are seeking federal approval to run wild bison on a second piece of property as the size of their private herd grows.

The American Prairie Reserve has asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow bison to graze on the Flat Creek Allotment in south Phillips County. That would add 22,000 acres of new habitat for the animals to the 30,000 acres already in use.

A spokeswoman says the group expects to have up to 600 bison by this spring.

BLM officials said the reserve also wants permission to remove interior fencing and to manage their private lands and adjoining public lands as common pasture.

Landowners in the area have said the growth of the reserve threatens agricultural production.

Unprecedented sage grouse protection deal signed in Nevada Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:56:28 -0400 SCOTT SONNER RENO, Nev. (AP) — An unprecedented attempt to protect sage grouse habitat across parts of more than 900 square miles of privately owned land in Nevada began under a deal Thursday involving the federal government, an environmental group and the world’s largest gold mining company.

The agreement comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approaches a fall deadline for a decision on whether to protect the greater sage grouse, a bird roughly the size of a chicken that ranges across the West, under the Endangered Species Act.

Commercial operations, including mining companies and oil and gas producers, are entering into such deals in an effort to keep the bird off the threatened or endangered list because the classification would place new restrictions on their work.

The deal involves Barrick Gold Corp., The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service. It establishes a “conservation bank,” providing the mining firm credit for enhancing critical habitat, in exchange for flexibility in future operations. It aims to preserve and restore more habitat than is lost through development while at the same time providing Barrick with more certainty as it maps out new mining plans.

“This is the kind of creative, voluntary partnership that we need to help conserve the greater sage grouse, while sustaining important economic activities on western rangelands,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

The agreement “strikes the right balance between economic development and conservation,” said Michael Brown, executive director of Barrick’s U.S. operations.

Similar efforts already are underway on a much smaller scale involving ranching operations in Oregon and Wyoming.

Scientists estimate the sage grouse population is less than half what it was in the early 19th century it inhabited an estimated 450,000 square miles of sagebrush across the West.

Growing threats to its nesting grounds include wildfires, invasive plants, livestock grazing, mining and oil and gas exploration. The risks have led land managers to consider new protections.

It’s difficult to estimate what Barrick will spend on the conversation efforts but it “likely will be in the millions,” company lawyer Patrick Malone said. He said much of the bird’s most important range in Nevada is on private land.

“The bird benefits in ways that can only really happen through this public-private partnership,” Malone told The Associated Press.

Michael Cameron, The Nature Conservancy’s associate state director for Nevada, acknowledged the agreement may not be embraced by some conservation groups who argue against development of any lands with habitat critical to the survival of the sage grouse.

“Our overriding objective in this is to achieve lofty conservation results on the ground,” Cameron told the AP. “Certainly, in a case like this where we have the potential to achieve conservation improvements on potentially hundreds of thousands of acres, it is the kind of opportunity, frankly, that we have an obligation to try to approve.”

BLM Nevada Director Amy Leuders likes the advance nature of the agreement. She said, “It’s certainly to the benefit of the sage grouse and its habitat for conservation actions to occur before other impacts from mining operations occur.”

Portland daily grain report Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:53:36 -0400 Portland, Ore., Friday, March 27, 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 May wheat futures trended 4.75 to 7.50 cents per bushel higher than Thursday’s closes.

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

Bids for guaranteed maximum 10.5 protein were not well tested, but were indicated as steady to higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids for March delivery in a limited test.

Bids for 11.5 percent protein US 1 Hard Red Winter Wheat for March delivery were not well tested in early trading, but were indicated as higher. Some exporters are no issuing bids for nearby delivery.

Bids for 14 percent protein US 1 Dark Northern Spring Wheat for March delivery were also not well tested in early trading, but bids were indicated as generally higher compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

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

Bids for US 1 Yellow Soybeans delivered full coast in 110 car shuttle trains trended lower compared to Thursday’s noon bids.

All wheat bids in dollars per bushel

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

Ordinary protein

Mar NA

Apr NA

May NA

Jun NA


Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Mar mostly 7.0475, ranging 6.9450-7.2500

Apr 6.9500-7.2500

May 6.9950-7.3600

Jun 6.8375-7.3900

Aug NC 6.1800-6.4000

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

Ordinary protein

Mar NA

Guaranteed maximum 10.5 pct protein

Mar mostly 9.3150, ranging 8.9450-9.6500

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


Ordinary protein 6.4275-6.5575

10 pct protein 6.4275-6.5575

11 pct protein 6.5275-6.6375

11.5 pct protein

Mar 6.5775-6.6775

Apr 6.6275-6.7275

May 6.6275-6.7775

Jun 6.6275-6.6775

Aug NC 6.4900-6.6900

12 pct protein 6.6275-6.6775

13 pct protein 6.6275-6.7275

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 7.5575-8.1575

14 pct protein

Mar 8.7575-8.9575

Apr 8.7075-8.9575

May 8.6075-8.9575

Jun 8.0200-9.0700

Aug NC 7.1350-7.3350

15 pct protein 9.5575

16 pct protein 10.1575-10.3575

US 2 Yellow Corn

110 car shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Mar 4.8475-4.9575

Apr 4.7975-4.8775

May 4.7975-4.8375

Jun/Jul 4.7975-4.8275

Oct 4.9550-5.0450

Nov 4.9550-5.0450

US 1 Yellow Soybeans

110 car shuttle trains-Delivered full coast Pacific Northwest-BN

Mar 10.5650

Apr 10.4650-10.5650

May 10.4650

Sep 10.4425-10.4525

Oct 10.4325-10.4825

Nov 10.4425-10.4725

US 2 Heavy White Oats 3.8475

Not well tested.

Exporter Bids Portland Rail/Barge Feb 2015

Averages in Dollars per bushel

US 1 Soft White by Unit Trains and Barges 6.4900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (Ordinary protein) 6.3900

US 1 Hard Red Winter (11.5% protein) 6.5200

US 1 Dark Northern Spring (14% protein) 8.6000

Source: USDA Market News Service, Portland, OR

Grafting company stays busy Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:32:26 -0400 Dan Wheat DESERT AIRE, Wash. — It’s a small army of workers over there nicely cast in orchard sunlight as you whip by northward on Highway 243.

You turn around, go back and pull in on Orchard Drive. Half-a-dozen chainsaws buzz like bees. Cutters quickly lop off main stems of young trees.

Of the 30-plus workers who follow, some pull the cut stems from trellis wire. Others use sharp knives to form wedges on one end of 5-inch chunks of scion wood. The scion, cut from a desired variety, has been kept fresh in buckets of water. The workers jam the wedge ends between the bark and cambium of the freshly cut tree trunks.

Next in the work chain are those who wrap the new unions in tape, applying pressure so the scion wood makes good contact with the cambium layer of the trunk and will grow.

Adeline Sanchey is one of many waxers. She dabs gray wax at the top of the unions to keep moisture out.

It looks like the easiest task.

“It is,” she says, “except in the morning when it’s cold and the wax is hard.”

Gloria Ochoa follows Sanchey with a brush and bucket, painting the unions with yellow sealant.

In time, the sealant, wax and tape decompose and the scion grows into new trees. Grafting is a means of switching varieties without buying whole new trees.

The crew works fast. It’s a 16-acre block owned by Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers of Wenatchee. The job will be done in three days or less, says Manuel Lujano, 19, whose father, Jose Lujano, 60, owns 3rd Generation Grafting of Yakima. Lujano’s other son, Fernando, 35, also is involved in the operation.

“We started as a little family business and have grown,” Manuel Lujano says. “We do about 150 acres each spring throughout Central Washington.”

The company is seasonal with the spring work and then bud grafting in August and September. The rest of the year, the crew and the Lujanos go their separate ways into other field work.

State health agency rewriting farmworker housing standards Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:19:47 -0400 Don Jenkins OLYMPIA — Growers who provide housing for seasonal workers face additional costs to meet new standards proposed by the Washington Department of Health, farm groups and producers say.

The department is expected to soon revise regulations for temporary farmworker housing. The rules will dictate everything from minimum living space to temperature settings for hot water tanks and refrigerators.

Health officials say the new rules, meant to protect workers, haven’t been finalized and won’t be in effect for this growing season.

But the department has released proposed rules that are drawing complaints from farm groups.

In some ways, the proposed rules exceed federal standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Growers have spent anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per bed to satisfy federal rules and qualify to hire foreign workers on H-2A visas, Washington Farm Labor Association H-2A program manager Roxanna Macias said.

Housing built under those standards should be exempt from the new rules, she said. “There needs to be a grandfather clause. If not, we’re going to lose a lot of beds and ultimately that’s going to impact our agricultural members and the industry as a whole.”

The health department in 2014 licensed 266 temporary farmworker residences, with 16,633 beds.

The department’s director of health facilities, Lisa Hodgson, said the agency based its proposed rules on meetings with agricultural groups and worker advocates. “Some of the areas we exceeded (federal standards), we heard from the advocates that they want additional standards put into place to protect the workers,” she said.

As proposed, the new rules would require growers to provide more toilets than mandated by OSHA.

The rules also would impose new requirements for locks on bathroom doors, partitions between kitchens and sleeping areas, fire extinguishers, rails on bunk beds, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors,

A lawyer who represents farmworkers, Dan Ford of Columbia Legal Services, said the proposed rules don’t go far enough in some cases.

There should be at least one shower per six workers, not the proposed 10 workers, and housing should be cooled to at least 80 degrees, not the proposed 90 degrees, he said.

The health department proposes to adopt the federal standard of 100 feet of living space per worker. Ford said that’s too tight for physical and mental health. “Even the OSHA standards are not humane,” he said.

The Senate agriculture and human services committees Thursday held a joint work session on the proposed rules, which could be finalized in the next couple of months.

Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, agreed the new rules should not apply to existing housing.

“This really makes me nervous,” she said. “There’s no way you can put in housing and keep having the rules changing. You just can’t afford it.”

Okanogan County Farm Bureau President Jon Wyss said the demand for H2-A workers has jumped dramatically in recent years. To bring in foreign workers, growers had to build free housing, he said. “Grandfathering in housing is absolutely critical,” he said.

Wyss showed senators a picture of bunk beds in worker housing. The beds, he said, were bought from the University of Washington. They didn’t have rails, as would be required under the proposed rules. “So it’s safe to put a University of Washington student in one of those beds without a rail, but not a farmworker,” he said.

The work session included live video testimony from housing charities and farmworkers in Pasco. The farmworkers, speaking in Spanish, praised the housing provided them.

Expected drought shows need for water projects Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:19:20 -0400 Dan Wheat ELLENSBURG, Wash. — The Kittitas Reclamation District can start taking water from Lake Easton on April 20 but it may shut down early depending on the severity of this year’s drought.

Normally it supplies water to 60,000 acres, representing about two-thirds of the Kittitas Valley, until Oct. 15, but it won’t have enough to last that long if supply is restricted to 73 percent, says Urban Eberhart, a district board member and hay and apple grower southeast of Ellensburg.

With summer drought from low winter snowpack expected, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said earlier this month that junior water rights holders in the Yakima Basin may get just 73 percent of normal supply.

Growers can get by one year on that, but the big concern will be the snowpack next winter, Eberhart said. If it’s light there will be even less water in reservoir storage for the summer of 2016, he said.

“Our scenario right now is exactly what our projections show winters here will be like between 2040 and 2050, when we receive almost normal precipitation but as rain rather than snow,” Eberhart said. “We’re really dependent on 3,000-foot-elevation snowpack and without it we can’t make it. It underscores the need for additional storage we’re working on now.”

The Yakima Integrated Management Plan, agreed to by local, state and federal agencies, calls for additional water storage in the Yakima Basin.

The plan includes pumping an additional 200,000 acre-feet of water out of Lake Kachess in drought years and a tunnel allowing flow of water from Keechelus Lake to Lake Kachess.

“Keechelus is a smaller lake with a big watershed and Kachess is a bigger lake with a smaller watershed, so there’s room to move water from the one to the other,” Eberhart said.

This summer work will start, he said, to raise Lake Cle Elum three feet, which will provide an extra 14,600 acre-feet of water. Further out is whether to enlarge the Bumping Lake reservoir on the American River toward Chinook Pass by about 160,000 acre-feet or gain the same amount by building a new Wymer dam and reservoir between Ellensburg and Yakima.

“We are trying to meet 2.5 million acre-feet of water demand every year. We do it now with mid-level snowpack. This year we don’t have it. The plan’s goal is to maintain 70 percent of supply for survival in drought years,” he said.

There won’t be much seeding of new Timothy hay in drought years so that upsets crop rotations, Eberhart said. The big concern is back-to-back drought years, he said.

Oregon farm zone changes raise concerns Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:12:41 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — A pair of bills that would modify permissible activities in Oregon farm zones have raised concerns among agriculture and property rights groups, but compromises appear possible.

At issue is what nonfarming commercial activities will be allowed on land zoned for agriculture.

The current language of House Bill 3368, which would allow home occupations to take place in an “outdoor setting” in farm zones, is making the Oregon Farm Bureau nervous.

As currently written, the provision is “incredibly broad” and could be “a tremendous deviation from existing practices and extremely disruptive,” said Mary Anne Nash, public policy counsel for the group, during a March 26 hearing of the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

While the bureau is concerned that the bill would allow for a “myriad of commercial uses” that could interfere with farming, Nash said she hopes that amendments will narrow the scope of the legislation.

If the language better reflects the bill’s intent — allowing farmers to hold weddings and similar events — then OFB would be willing to reconsider its position on the bill, she said.

The bureau’s view was largely shared by the 1,000 Friends of Oregon conservation group and Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development, which said they also want to see modifications to the bill.

Legislation that would reduce allowable activities in farm zones, House Bill 2829, caused similar worries about overbreadth with the Oregonians in Action property rights group.

The bill defines the type of “private parks” that are permissible on farms, clarifying that they’re intended only for “passive outdoor recreational opportunities,” such as picnicking or hiking, and not active uses, such as paint ball competitions and tracks for motor vehicles.

Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, said he introduced the bill out of concern that such active “private parks” may change the nature of farmland in a way that’s difficult to reverse.

Helm said he plans to propose an amendment to HB 2829 to limit the new definition to private parks on high-value farmland.

While areas with low-quality soils can also be disrupted by active recreation, that’s a more nuanced situation that can be discussed later, he said.

Dave Hunnicutt, president of Oregonians in Action, said his group was prepared to oppose the bill as originally written but is amenable to a narrower version.

Some properties zoned for farming actually have very little agricultural value — such as an extremely rocky land — so it doesn’t make sense to strictly limit recreation activities and events on them, he said.

Caution urged after bird flu turns up in Wyoming goose Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:09:04 -0400 MEAD GRUVER CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department on Thursday urged people to be careful handling wild or domestic fowl because Wyoming is now among the states where a strain of bird flu has turned up in recent months.

A goose from the Cheyenne area recently tested positive for the H5N2 virus. The virus is considered highly pathogenic, meaning it can spread quickly and be deadly to geese, ducks, chickens and other fowl.

The virus presents little risk to people. Still, Game and Fish officials urged people who handle wild or domestic fowl to take precautions.

They should wear latex or rubber gloves, wash their hands thoroughly, disinfect areas where bird meat is processed, and cook bird meat thoroughly, they said in a release.

Businesses and individuals who keep domestic fowl should keep wild birds away from their flocks and be sure to disinfect equipment, clean cages regularly and change food and water daily, they said.

“Avian influenza can be transmitted to domestic bird flocks from infected wild birds,” State Veterinarian Jim Logan said.

Two highly pathogenic bird flu viruses — H5N2 and H5N8 — have been documented since late last year in wild and domestic fowl in 11 states: Arkansas, California, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Right now, the virus is of little concern to hunters because most Wyoming bird-hunting seasons don’t resume until this fall. Falconers, however, should avoid hunting other birds — particularly waterfowl — during the virus outbreak, officials said.

73-year-old gets 75 years for trying to reclaim former ranch Fri, 27 Mar 2015 09:04:20 -0400 HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A 73-year-old man who threatened from behind bars to forcibly take back the western Montana ranch he lost in a 1979 divorce has been sentenced to 75 years in prison for intimidating and stalking its owners.

The sentence ends the long-running case against John Fesler Lance II, who was so defiant in his claim to the property that he spent nearly 30 years in prison for threats over its court-ordered sale and then confronted the owners as soon as he was free.

Lance told the judge Wednesday that if he were released, he would again try to take back the ranch.

“You effectively described why I could never put you on probation,” District Judge Jeffrey Langton said, “and why I don’t think you should ever be released from prison again.”

The defendant looked thin in his orange jumpsuit in court, saying he had been on a 10-day hunger strike and would fast without food or liquid until he dies. He went back to the state prison Wednesday.

Lance spent 27 years behind bars after convictions beginning in the mid-1980s for intimidating judges, attorneys and others involved in the court-mandated sale of the ranch. In recent years, he sent letters to current owners Lee and Lucinda Hayne and their attorney that threatened to use all force necessary to take his ranch back, including kidnapping, the couple said.

He was released from prison last March and showed up the next day at Lucinda Hayne’s workplace. He spent April through July in jail for violating a court order of protection.

Lance was arrested again after going to the ranch on Sept. 15 and arguing that the Haynes were trespassing and he had the right to use force to evict them. They held him at gunpoint until deputies arrived.

Lance, who was acting as his own attorney, refused to participate in his February trial and was convicted of felony intimidation, stalking, violating a protective order and trespassing.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright sought a 75- to 100-year prison sentence, arguing that Lance “refuses to follow the basic rules of society.”

“Given that, it’s our belief that the only recourse we’re left with is to put prison bars between this defendant and the community,” Fulbright said.

The Haynes said it will be some time before they come off “high alert” and can feel safe on their property near Florence.

California lawmakers heading to Cuba on spring trade trip Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:48:36 -0400 FENIT NIRAPPIL SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democratic members of the California Assembly announced Thursday that they’re heading to Cuba for a five-day agricultural trade mission next week as the U.S. considers easing economic restrictions against the island nation.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Assemblyman Henry Perea, a Fresno Democrat who chairs the agriculture committee, will lead seven other lawmakers while the Legislature is in spring recess. They will be joined by ranchers, farmers and Darius Anderson, a Sacramento lobbyist who also leads trade missions to Cuba.

The lobbyist’s group, Californians Building Bridges, is helping organize this trip.

President Barack Obama is seeking to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba after a 50-year U.S. ban on trade and travel. Officials in California, the nation’s top food producer, see an opportunity to do more business and trade, including for other sectors such as telecommunications, construction and banking.

“This trade delegation is one way to help California companies gain a competitive edge,” Atkins said in a prepared statement.

The 27-person delegation will meet with Cuban officials, including farmers and business leaders, and learn about the nation’s economy.

Lawmakers must pay for the trip themselves, said John Casey, a spokesman for Atkins. The trip is between March 30 and April 3.

Wyoming ag committee focuses on rustling Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:40:17 -0400 CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — An interim legislative committee will study ways to combat an anticipated increase in cattle rustling in Wyoming.

Rep. Robert McKim, R-Afton, said the Joint Interim Agriculture committee will consider boosting the state’s livestock law enforcement capabilities, focusing on cooperation among the law enforcement agencies in Wyoming and surrounding states.

“With the price of beef going up so much, we’re expecting an increase in that activity in the area,” McKim said. “We’re concerned about what our laws say and who we have to enforce them.”

Currently, livestock theft falls under the jurisdiction of the Wyoming Livestock Board’s Law Enforcement unit.

Jimmy Dean Siler, a Wyoming Livestock Board investigator, said the four-person investigative staff is tasked with covering the entire state.

“We’re one of the most proactive livestock investigative agencies around, but we only have four investigators and we’re overseen by our board,” Siler said. “We don’t have the funding. We’re probably one of the most technologically inept agencies out there.”

The unit lost a part-time investigator last year.

Siler told the Casper Star-Tribune that staff members could benefit most from a boost in funding and added cooperation with local law enforcement.

“If we were to take a more proactive stance, we could do more surveillance and work more with our sheriff’s office in the border areas to do more road checks and get a better level of prevention,” he said.

Ken Hamilton, executive vice president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, said educating state agencies like the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the highway patrol on brand issues is a first step in better rustling enforcement.

“Ideally, you would just have more law enforcement,” Hamilton said. “That could mean working with the law enforcement on all levels to get them up to speed on brand issues.”

Cattle theft presents a unique challenge for law enforcement. Once livestock is loaded on a trailer, the chances of finding them stolen are slim, Siler said.

Rustlers most often steal cattle in small numbers before hauling them to neighboring states with fewer brand laws. There, the animals are sold at livestock auctions or feedlots.

“Pretty quickly, you’re evidence is going to get eaten and disappear forever,” Siler said. “It could be the perfect crime if you made the right connections.”

Hamilton said as long as prices remain high, theft will be a problem for Wyoming ranchers.

“Short of having a cowboy with the cattle all of the time, you’re always going to have those challenges in an open range situation,” he said.

White House unveils plan to fight antibiotic-resistant germs Fri, 27 Mar 2015 08:33:22 -0400 NEDRA PICKLER WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Friday announced a five-year plan to fight the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria amid fears that once-treatable germs could become deadly.

Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drugs, so that they are no longer effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses each year in the United States.

The World Health Organization said last year that bacteria resistant to antibiotics have spread to every part of the world and might lead to a future where minor infections like strep throat could kill. Antibiotic resistance also threatens animal health, agriculture, and the economy.

In an interview with WebMD, President Barack Obama said over-prescribing antibiotics is a serious problem.

“Studies have consistently shown that a lot of America’s antibiotic use is unnecessary,” he said. He said he hopes his plan will create a system to show real-time rates of antibiotic use and where cases of drug resistance are being reported. “If we can see where these drugs are being over-prescribed, we can target our interventions where they’re needed most.”

The White House’s overall goal is to prevent and contain outbreaks of infections at home and abroad. It’s aiming to maintain the ability of current antibiotics to fight illnesses and develop new treatments.

The plan is the result of an order Obama signed in September forming a task force on the issue. Obama also has asked Congress to nearly double its funding to fight antibiotic resistance to $1.2 billion.

Critics said the White House needs to go further, particularly in terms of the antibiotics used in animals processed for meat. The Food and Drug Administration has already successfully encouraged many drug companies to phase out the use of antibiotics used for animal growth promotion. But advocacy groups have called on the agency to limit other uses of animal antibiotics as well, such as for disease prevention when holding animals in crowded conditions.

“Once again, the administration has fallen woefully short of taking meaningful action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in healthy food animals,” said New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter, a microbiologist who has sponsored legislation to stop routine antibiotic use in animal farming.

“With 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States being used in agriculture mostly for prevention, any meaningful solution to the looming antibiotic resistance crisis must begin with limits on the farm — and trusting a voluntary policy that lets industry police itself will not bring about real change,” she said.

Congress in no hurry to pass meat-labeling fix Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:49:10 -0400 Tim Hearden Congress will apparently wait for a World Trade Organization decision on the U.S.’ controversial meat-labeling rule before considering legislation to stem potential retaliations from Canada and Mexico against dozens of American industries.

The effects of trade sanctions that could harm major Western commodities such as California’s $24 billion wine industry and Washington’s $2.25 billion apple industry were examined March 25 in a hearing by the House Agriculture Committee’s Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee.

The hearing, which was held in Washington, D.C. and streamed online, featured testimony from industry representatives such as Michael T. Smith of the Selma, Calif.-based Harris Ranch, who said the 2008 rule has added extra work and expenses for American producers while creating an uneven playing field for foreign livestock.

“All segments of the U.S. beef industry have been impacted by COOL,” said Smith, Harris’ special projects manager. “Feeders and packers across the country, and of all sizes, are experiencing the same issues with compliance costs and discounts. As a result of the costs associated with the implementation of COOL, we have seen discounts paid on cattle which originate in either Canada or Mexico. Those discounts have ranged from $35 to $60 per head.”

However, no bill has been introduced to either change or repeal the labeling regulation to avert tariffs on potentially dozens of American agricultural goods that could be put in place later this year. Insiders say lawmakers don’t want to undermine U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s appeal of the WTO’s Oct. 20 ruling that the labeling rule’s 2013 revision gave an unfair advantage to U.S. livestock.

National Pork Producers Council spokesman Dave Warner said he hopes members of Congress are working behind the scenes to craft a bill in case the U.S. loses.

“I guess they figure they don’t need to do anything if the U.S. wins the appeal,” Warner said. “I guess that makes sense. I think we need to be ready to go as soon as the (decision) comes out because we expect the United States will lose the appeal.”

A decision by the WTO’s Appellate Body is expected later this spring, and a ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico would begin “a 60-day clock” for the U.S.’ two neighbors to quantify the economic harm they’ve suffered and start imposing tariffs.

“They just don’t move that fast,” Warner said of Congress. “But we need to avoid retaliation, and it’s not just pork and beef (that will be targeted). It’s all kinds of other products.”

Canada has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on more than three dozen American commodities, including beef, pork, rice, corn, apples, cherries and wine. Canada and Mexico could also refuse to honor copyrights on intellectual property, University of California-Davis agricultural economist Daniel Sumner has said.

The U.S. had revised its rule in 2013 after the WTO determined that the original rule, enacted as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, was discriminatory without adequately informing American consumers about the origin of food. The WTO’s initial ruling was upheld on appeal.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in November that Congress must change the law or Mexico and Canada need to negotiate a settlement with the United States. He has said no regulation could likely be crafted that would comply with the WTO’s decisions and still uphold the law Congress passed.

At the March 25 hearing, National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson urged lawmakers to hold their fire on the labeling rule. He noted a recent study by Auburn University agricultural economist C. Robert Taylor, which refuted Canada’s claim its cattle industry is losing $1 billion a year because of the rule.

“Congress should not listen to the overblown rhetoric and retaliatory threats made by foreign government officials and the meatpackers,” Johnson said. “The WTO has stated multiple times that countries have a right to label products with their country of origin … We urge Congress to allow the WTO process to run its course.”

Subcommittee chairman Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., asserted that retaliatory sanctions against agriculture and other industries could be “substantial” and that it’s important for the panel to “fully understand the potential consequences” of the WTO decision and “be ready” with a legislative solution.

“I remain committed to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to avoid retaliation,” he said.

Warner hopes that planning will begin soon.

“We need them to at least start thinking of alternatives,” he said.

Apple commission discusses GM position Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:51:57 -0400 Dan Wheat WENATCHEE, Wash. — The Washington apple industry opposed USDA approval of genetically-modified apples, not on the science but on potential damage to apple sales.

But now that propagation and sales of GM apples has been approved in the U.S. and Canada, the Washington Apple Commission is discussing its future position.

Commission President Todd Fryhover has said the commission will need to educate the public that Washington apples are not GM apples, but at a March 24 commission meeting he said: “We support sound science is our position.”

Washington growers may need to plant GM apples for scab resistance or some other reason 10 years down the road, he said.

“There will come a day when we have to address it and there are a lot of foreign countries that won’t accept GE products, period,” he said.

The apple industry has benefited tremendously from science and it’s “crystal clear” the science behind GM apples is sound, Fryhover wrote in a recent opinion piece in Good Fruit Grower magazine.

In today’s world of instant communications through hand-held devices, public opinion can be shaped on emotion and scant factual information, Fryhover noted.

More assets need to be allocated toward increasing fresh apple consumption than defending merits of GM apples, he wrote. He questioned the need for GM apples, saying the industry is providing higher quality apples without genetic modification.

While GM apples won’t be on the market for several years, they raise many marketing questions and how the industry differentiates and educates is key in cost to the grower, Fryhover wrote.

In the meeting, Fryhover said a dozen environmental organizations are asking fast food restaurants for commitments to not buy genetically-modified apples and potatoes.

“Do we support labeling?” he asked commissioners.

“Technical groups have to advocate for sound science, but as marketers we have to take retailer leads and retailers will tell us to find sound consumers,” said West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, and a commissioner.

“The industry needs to be for sound science, but we don’t have a lot of leverage to do other than what retailers say,” he said.

Bill grants livestock producers capital gains tax deduction Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:49:07 -0400 Sean Ellis BOISE — Idaho lawmakers have passed a bill that ensures livestock operations will be treated the same as other industries when it comes to a state tax deduction for capital gains.

Idaho allows ranching operations to claim a 60 percent tax deduction on capital gains derived from the sale of tangible personal property and held for at least 12 months, as long as at least half of the entity’s gross personal income comes from farming or ranching in Idaho.

This could include cattle or horses held for breeding, draft, dairy or sporting purposes.

However, the deduction is not available for minority interests in these operation who do not get at least 50 percent of their income from farming or ranching. That could include individual owners in an S corporation or limited liability company who share in profits from these so-called “pass-through” entities.

This is not consistent with how other industries are treated when it comes to this tax deduction, said Sen. Brent Hill, R- Rexburg, the bill’s author and a retired certified public accountant.

Hill’s legislation, which was signed into law March 19 by Gov. Butch Otter and is effective July 1, would ensure that those partners would be eligible for the tax deduction regardless of whether they derive half of their income from farming or ranching, as long as the pass-through entity meets that requirement.

“This results in consistent treatment of all qualifying capital gains, rather than holding livestock to a different standard,” the bill’s statement of purpose says.

The bill was supported by Idaho’s dairy and cattle industries.

“This would allow those individual members of the entity to deduct the capital gains as long as the co-owned entity derives more than half of its gross income off of farming or ranching,” said Idaho Cattle Association Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott.

He said the change could be particularly helpful to family owned livestock operations where not every member of the family gets more than half of their income from ranching.

Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead said he sent a copy of the legislation to an accounting firm that specializes in agricultural accounting.

“Their reply was, ‘It’s about time,’” he said. “We think it’s a great idea. It puts livestock and agriculture on the same ground as mining and forestry and other industries.”

Expert: Oregon neonic ban would be disruptive Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:56:31 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski SALEM — A pesticide expert has warned Oregon lawmakers that legislation proposing to ban neonicotinoids could prompt a return to more toxic chemicals among farmers.

Neonicotinoid pesticides were blamed for pollinator die-offs in Oregon and critics say the chemicals also have sublethal effects that are responsible for poor bee health.

House Bill 2589 would prohibit the application of “nitro-group” neonicotinoids, including clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, but the Oregon Department of Agriculture could make exemptions to the ban in “unusual circumstances.”

Paul Jepson, director of Oregon State University’s Integrated Plant Protection Center, said a “blanket ban” could disrupt farmers’ transition to more environmentally gentle methods of controlling pests.

Growers have relied on neonicotinoids as they’ve used fewer broad-spectrum organophosphate pesticides in recent years, but may take up the older chemicals if the ban is approved, Jepson said during a March 26 hearing on multiple pesticide bills being considered by the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

While neonicotinoids can pose a problem for pollinators, such risks can be managed effectively, he said.

Farmers in Oregon have a history of responding to such hazards and state and federal regulators are being diligent in regulating neonicotinoids, he said.

Over time, farmers can transition from broad-spectrum pesticides to more pest-specific techniques, such as encouraging predatory insects, Jepson said. “It sounds slightly airy-fairy, but believe me, it isn’t.”

Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said he introduced HB 2589 due to concerns that neonicotinoids are affecting not only pollinators but other insects and birds.

Though there are studies to support arguments for and against banning neonicotinoids, research generally indicates the pesticides are harmful, he said.

Holvey noted that in 2013, the European Commission — a governing body of the European Union — voted to restrict three neonicotinoids: clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

“We need to take precautionary measures to ensure the sustainability of our environment,” he said.

Aside from the neonicotinoid ban, Holvey has sponsored other pesticide legislation that’s being reviewed by the committee: House Bill 3123, which would ban aerial applications except during emergencies declared by state regulators, and House Bill 3482, which would require pesticide applications to be reported to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

During the hearing, Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, spoke about several bills he has introduced:

• House Bill 3428 would create new certification requirements for aerial pesticide applicators.

• House Bill 3434 would appropriate money — likely about $2 million — for three new pesticide investigators and a claims processor at ODA.

• House Bill 3429 would establish standard operating procedures for state agencies to handle pesticide complaints.

• House Bill 3430 would create a telephone hotline for people concerned about pesticide misuse.

The committee ran out of time during the March 25 hearing, so further discussion of the proposed legislation was carried over until a future date.

Committee Chair Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, said he plans to hold a work group to distill the proposals into a concise piece of legislation to be introduced in April.

Witt urged testimony to focus on peer-reviewed science and “best practices” that would promote environmental and economic health.

“We are on a problem solving mission rather than a description of the problem,” he said.

One Washington, two sides Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:20:30 -0400 Don Jenkins OLYMPIA — Residents of Eastern Washington are frustrated with the more populous Westside of the state. And nowhere was that frustration more prominent than one day last month in the Capitol. On the docket were cougars and wolves, two hot-button issues that split the state right down the center of the Cascade Range.

In one hearing, Eastside ranchers were asking senators to loosen the state’s law against using hounds to chase cougars and keep the predators away from livestock.

In another hearing, an Eastside county commissioner told legislators that his constituents were fed up with wolves.

They continue to attack cattle and sheep, costing ranchers tens of thousands of dollars. All the while wolves remain protected under state and federal endangered species laws that draw most of their support from Westside groups and individuals.

In the weeks since, lawmakers have agreed to take a close look at the wolf problem. The hounds, however, will remain on the leash.

For the day, Eastern Washington was 1 for 2. Not bad, considering the Westside’s population — and representation in the Capitol — is more than three times as large as the Eastside’s.

The state’s longstanding east-west divide has popped up several times this legislative session, and it usually involved agriculture. Divisive issues such as wolves, cougars, trails and even honeybees have all surfaced this session in the state Capitol.

It’s not surprising, or new. The issues change, but the division between Eastern and Western Washington — sometimes called the Cascade Curtain — predates statehood. As the pioneers debated how best to divvy up the Oregon Territory into states, they argued about East versus West.

More than 125 years later, some Eastside lawmakers want a re-do.

Kennewick Rep. Brad Klippert and Spokane Valley Rep. Matt Shea both introduced bills this year to study carving out a 51st state on the Eastside.

Shea said he was taking up the challenge of liberal pundits who opine the poorer Eastside holds back the Westside’s progressive agenda.

If set free, the Eastside, with its orchards, farms, ranches and minerals, would be economically strong, Shea said.

“Give us a chance to prove the naysayers wrong,” he argues.

Klippert complains the Westside has imposed such issues as gay marriage, recreational marijuana and gun control on the Eastside. For him, the last straw was the Seattle City Council dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.

“I have nothing against indigenous people, but that’s a rewriting of the history book,” he said.

“We constantly have to live by their principles and values, and I’m tired of it, and so are a lot of people,” Klippert said.

Neither Shea’s bill nor Klippert’s bill got a hearing.

Klippert said he won’t give up. “I’ll stand by this plan as long as I’m an elected official.”

The Eastside has clout in Olympia. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler is a Ritzville farmer. But many state policies are determined by the governor and other statewide officeholders, elected Supreme Court justices or statewide ballot measures and initiatives promoted by Westside interests.

Adams County rancher Branden Spencer said Eastside legislators do well on issues particular to the region.

“But when it’s one of those issues that involves both sides of the state, it’s a lost cause for this side of the state,” he said.

For example, the ban on using hounds to hunt cougars was passed by initiative in 1996. Since then, lawmakers have eased the ban, but only for limited times in a few places.

Klickitat County Rancher Neil Kayser said the hound ban is an example of a Westside policy “trickling over the hill (and) we have to deal with it.”

“People on the Eastside are good stewards of the land, but we have to use the land,” he said. “If we were poor stewards … we wouldn’t be in business.”

Kayser said he’d be for splitting the state.

“Don’t get me wrong, there are good people on the Westside,” he said. “We just have a different lifestyle and view on things.”

Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who didn’t carry a single Eastside county in the historically close 2004 election, adopted the state-uniting slogan, “One Washington.”

“What happened to that concept — One Washington — on the wolf issue?” asks Stevens County Commissioner Wes McCart. Ranchers in that northeastern Washington county have for years been dealing with wolf packs that attack their livestock.

McCart has pressed lawmakers to recognize that when it comes to wolves not all “stakeholders” have as much at stake.

“I think we have two categories of stakeholders: Those who want wolves and those who are living with wolves,” he told a House committee in February.

In an interview, McCart said he wished people on the Westside would “take the time to put themselves in the shoes of other folks.”

“I’d like for them to realize there’s the desire and fantasy (about wolves) and then there’s the reality. They’re living the desire and fantasy, and we’re living the reality,” he said.

McCart has spoken in favor of taking a look at splitting the state. “It’s unfortunate we would ever have to have that conversation,” he said.

In 2005, a Senate committee held the last legislative hearing on dividing the state. The committee’s chairman, a Puyallup Democrat, said he wouldn’t move the bill along, but he wanted to give Eastside county commissioners a chance to air their grievances.

“We may entertain this bill every year,” said the chairman, Jim Kastama.

That didn’t satisfy Spokane Republican Bob McCaslin. He said Eastside residents wanted a new state, not an annual hearing.

“We’re about as serious as we can get about this bill,” he said.

For Honeybee Awareness Day at the Capitol this month, Grant County beekeeper Tim Hiatt wore a tie, befitting someone on a business trip.

Hiatt is not a backyard beekeeper. He has 12,000 hives that pollinate California almonds in late winter before returning to Washington to pollinate tree fruit. His customers and neighbors are farmers. He’s not joining the push to ban pesticides to save bees, a position that has support among some Westside beekeepers who don’t provide pollinating services.

“For beekeepers, there’s a huge divide between east and west,” Hiatt said.

“I get frustrated with folks like the Sierra Club who want to clamp down on pesticide use,” Hiatt said. “I guess it’s a constant source of frustration. Those who want to restrict agriculture like to eat.”

Branden Spencer, the Adams County rancher, said he felt the east-west divide in January at a meeting in Tumwater of the State Parks Commission.

The commission voted to charge agricultural producers to drive on state recreational trails that bisect their farms and ranches. Spencer has miles of trails crossing his land. Permits will come with conditions to prevent producers from getting in the way of hikers, cyclists and equestrians.

Spencer said parks commissioners didn’t “grasp how desolate the area we live in is.”

“It might as well be Egypt,” he said.

Before there was an east-west divide, there was a north-south divide, which was decisive in setting the Washington-Oregon border.

In 1851 and 1852, Oregon Territory residents north of the Columbia River held conventions to draw up a petition to ask Congress for their own territory. At the time the Oregon Territory included what would become the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming.

“The entire Legislative power is South of the Columbia River ... the South has no interest in common whatever with the North,” the petition stated. “The Inhabitants North of the Columbia River receive no benefit or convenience whatever from the Territorial Government as now administered.”

Northerners complained that reaching a judge took longer than traveling from Missouri to Massachusetts.

“There is now about three thousand souls North of the Columbia,” according to the petition. “They have raised a large amount of produce, wheat, oats, potatoes, onions, etc. for exportation, but with the many abuses of their rights and neglected condition in their civil immunities as Citizens, it is impossible for them to prosper in commerce or advance one step in the improvement of Roads & Highways.”

Congress granted the petition and in 1853 broke up the Oregon Territory and formed the Washington Territory from the northern half. That settled the north-south divide. The east-west divide became an issue as Oregon sought to become a state.

A delegate to Oregon’s constitutional convention in 1857, Charles Megis of Wasco County, proposed setting the boundary at the Cascades, freeing up the east to form its own state, according to a history posted on the Oregon Secretary of State’s website.

Megis argued that it’s a “fixed fact in political science, the great natural boundaries are to be observed.” Invoking the image of a mythological demon, Megis said domination by the more populous Westside would be “hanging over us like an incubus.”

Megis said it would be tough, but the east could stand on its own. “Our bordering upon Indians; danger hangs over us, but we shall try to take care of ourselves.”

The west wouldn’t have it. A Western Oregon delegate and future U.S. senator, Delazon Smith, responded: “If we are hemmed in between these ranges of mountains here, with every acre of available lands appropriated what avail it, sir? Nothing! We are left to struggle as best we may.”

Klippert’s idea is to combine the western halves of Washington and Oregon into one state and the eastern halves into another state.

His legislation would have established a bi-state task force to study the economic and governmental implications of redrawing boundaries to unite regions that are described in the bill as “remarkably conspicuous.”

Shea proposed appointing a task force to look at cutting Washington in two, leaving Oregon out of it.

His bill’s preamble was reminiscent of the settlers’ 1852 appeal to Congress:

“Since statehood, the lifestyles, culture and economics of Eastern and Western Washington have been very distinct. The urbanization and rapid growth in the western portions of Washington state have progressively heightened this divergence of cultural and economic values from that of the eastern portions of the state.”

Population growth played a defining role in Washington’s history even before statehood.

By the time Washington became the 42nd state in 1889, the transcontinental railroad had bypassed Walla Walla, shutting down its growth. By a vote of the people, Olympia was picked as the state capital over Yakima and Ellensburg.

So it was to Olympia that ranchers went in February to talk about cougars.

The bill eventually died in the Senate, lost in the crush of other legislation.

Kayser’s cousin, Keith Kreps, also a Klickitat County rancher, said he was sorely disappointed.

“They don’t understand the wildlife issues we have,” Kreps said. “They don’t understand the economic loss. ... They wonder why we’re squawking.”

Kreps was quick to acknowledge that three Westside Democrats on the natural resources committee voted to recommend the Senate pass the bill. “My hat’s off to them. They actually understand the economics we were talking about,” he said.

Still, he made the drive over the Cascade Range for nothing.

His thoughts on splitting the state: “I’m all for it.”

Slugs remain a mystery, experts say Thu, 26 Mar 2015 11:11:46 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski Despite their close familiarity with the slimy pests, farmers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley continue to be baffled by slugs.

Growers and researchers recently puzzled over the mollusk’s onslaught against numerous crops during Oregon State University’s “Slug Summit,” held March 25 in Salem.

Slugs have grown as a problem in recent decades but it’s debatable why they’re causing more damage, farmers and scientists from OSU and USDA agreed.

Effectively thwarting the pest also remains a mystery.

The decline of field burning and rise of no-till and reduced tillage farming are sometimes blamed for increased slug numbers, creating better opportunities for the pest to find safe harbor.

However, some farmers reported persistent slug problems despite tilling heavily and burning fields.

Other theories for the pest’s rise include climate change and the lower prevalence of toxic pesticides, but the lack of a clear culprit is one reason that more slug research is needed, according to summit participants.

In some years, a crop will be devastated by slugs despite the use of poison bait, but the same field will respond positively to treatment in other years, several growers said.

Metaldehyde, a chemical commonly used to dessicate slugs, doesn’t always kill them, said George Hoffman, an OSU faculty research associate.

Those surviving mollusks are quick to develop an aversion to the slug bait, which varies in effectiveness depending on weather and crop conditions, he said.

For example, it’s less effective during low temperatures and harder for slugs to find in structurally “complex” mature field crops compared to those that have recently germinated, Hoffman said.

Young slugs also avoid metaldehyde granules in favor of fungi and other food sources, so the chemical can be taken up by earthworms rather than the target pest, experts said.

It’s unlikely that more toxic pesticides for slugs will come onto the market because of harmful collateral consequences for other species, said Paul Jepson, director of OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center.

Disrupting the pest’s reproduction with pheromones or releasing natural predators are viable options, but these measures must be employed in concert to be effective, he said.

“There are plenty of things that eat slugs and really love them, but the problem is they’re not sufficient,” Jepson said.

Summit participants broached several other possible control methods, including nematodes and diseases that affect slugs.

Shutting off genes that are crucial to the slug’s life cycle with mollusk-specific “RNAi” pesticides was also discussed.

For chemical manufacturers to focus on the problem, they’d have to foresee a profitable return on investment for a mollusk-specific pesticide, said Sujaya Rao, an OSU field entomologist.

Such a chemical would also have to work and be registered for a broad variety of crops, which poses a challenge, she said.

Dan Arp, dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said the university recognizes that slug research is a priority for farmers in the region.

The university is seeking increased state funding for extension agents who could deal with the issue, he said. However, current proposals by key Oregon lawmakers would only raise funding for extension services enough to keep up with inflation, Arp said.

Regardless of potential funding increases, new positions may be created as existing OSU faculty members retire, he said. The university may also designate a “strike team” of existing professors and agents to help study and control slugs.

“We need this coordinated effort, it has to be done that way,” Arp said.