Capital Press | Capital Press Thu, 14 Jun 2018 19:50:17 -0400 en Capital Press | Trump approves plan to impose tough China tariffs Thu, 14 Jun 2018 16:46:01 -0400 KEN THOMAS and PAUL WISEMAN WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has approved a plan to impose punishing tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as early as Friday, a move that could put his trade policies on a collision course with his push to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Trump has long vowed to fulfill his campaign pledge to clamp down on what he considers unfair Chinese trading practices. But his calls for billions in tariffs could complicate his efforts to maintain China’s support in his negotiations with North Korea.

Trump met Thursday with several Cabinet members and trade advisers and was expected to impose tariffs of at least $35 billion to $40 billion on Chinese imports, according to an industry official and an administration official familiar with the plans. The tariffs could reach $55 billion, said the industry official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter ahead of a formal announcement.

If the president presses forward as expected, it could set the stage for a series of trade actions against China and lead to retaliation from Beijing. Trump has already slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and European allies, and his proposed tariffs against China risk starting a trade war involving the world’s two biggest economies.

The decision on the Chinese tariffs comes in the aftermath of Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The president has coordinated closely with China on efforts to get Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear arsenal. But he signaled that whatever the implications, “I have to do what I have to do” to address the trade imbalance.

Trump, in his press conference in Singapore on Tuesday, said the U.S. has a “tremendous deficit in trade with China and we have to do something about it. We can’t continue to let that happen.” The U.S. trade deficit with China was $336 billion in 2017.

Administration officials have signaled support for imposing the tariffs in a dispute over allegations that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology, according to officials briefed on the plans. China has targeted $50 billion in U.S. products for potential retaliation.

Wall Street has viewed the escalating trade tensions with wariness, fearful that they could strangle the economic growth achieved during Trump’s watch and undermine the benefits of the tax cuts he signed into law last year.

“If you end up with a tariff battle, you will end up with price inflation, and you could end up with consumer debt. Those are all historic ingredients for an economic slowdown,” Gary Cohn, Trump’s former top economic adviser, said at an event sponsored by The Washington Post.

But Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House and campaign adviser, said the crackdown on China’s trade practices was “the central part of Trump’s economic nationalist message. His fundamental commitment to the ‘deplorables’ on the campaign trail was that he was going to bring manufacturing jobs back, particularly from Asia.”

In the trade fight, Bannon said, Trump has converted three major tools that “the American elites considered off the table” — namely, the use of tariffs, the technology investigation of China and penalties on Chinese telecom giant ZTE.

“That’s what has gotten us to the situation today where the Chinese are actually at the table,” Bannon said. “It’s really not just tariffs, it’s tariffs on a scale never before considered.”

The Chinese have threatened to counterpunch if the president goes ahead with the plan. Chinese officials have said they would drop agreements reached last month to buy more U.S. soybeans, natural gas and other products.

“We made clear that if the U.S. rolls out trade sanctions, including the imposition of tariffs, all outcomes reached by the two sides in terms of trade and economy will not come into effect,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday.

Beijing has also drawn up a list of $50 billion in U.S. products that would face retaliatory tariffs, including beef and soybeans — a shot at Trump’s supporters in rural America.

Scott Kennedy, a specialist on the Chinese economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Chinese threat was real and helped along by recent strains exhibited among the U.S. and allies. “I don’t think they would cower or immediately run to the negotiating table to throw themselves at the mercy of Donald Trump,” Kennedy said. “They see the U.S. is isolated and the president as easily distracted.”

Ron Moore, who farms 1,800 acres of corn and soybeans in Roseville, Illinois, said soybean prices have already started dropping ahead of what looks like a trade war between the two economic powerhouses. “We have to plan for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best,” said Moore, who is chairman of the American Soybean Association. “If you look back at President Trump’s history, he’s been wildly successful negotiating as a businessman. But it’s different when you’re dealing with other governments.”

The U.S. and China have been holding ongoing negotiations over the trade dispute. The United States has criticized China for the aggressive tactics it uses to develop advanced technologies, including robots and electric cars, under its “Made in China 2025” program. The U.S. tariffs are designed specifically to punish China for forcing American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

The administration is also working on proposed Chinese investment restrictions by June 30. So far, Trump has yet to signal any interest in backing away.

“I think the tariffs are coming,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser and visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “It really does depend on whether China makes a move to ameliorate Trump’s concerns, and so far they haven’t.”

Colorado wildfire forces nearly 2K evacuations amid drought Thu, 14 Jun 2018 15:33:50 -0400 JAMES ANDERSON DENVER (AP) — The threat of hot, windy weather and thunderstorms Thursday posed more problems for firefighters battling a Colorado wildfire that has forced residents of more than 1,000 homes to evacuate and led to warnings for others to get ready to leave.

The fire 13 miles north of Durango is in the Four Corners Region where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet — the epicenter of a large U.S. Southwest swath of exceptional drought, the worst category of drought.

Moderate to extreme drought conditions affect larger areas of those four states plus parts of Nevada, California, Oregon, Oklahoma and Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This week, authorities in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico closed recreational areas and enacted fire restrictions because of the high fire danger.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, reported there were 1,746 people responding to fight six active wildfires in the region. Firefighting costs have reached $12 million since June 1 for the Durango-area wildfire alone, according to the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center in suburban Denver.

In southwest Colorado, officials told residents of nearly 350 homes to be prepared to leave if dry thunderstorms, high heat and gusty winds spread a wildfire that has blackened more than 50 square miles and is seen as extremely dangerous for firefighters.

“With the storms comes the lighting and those gusty winds. We’re definitely asking the firefighters to keep their eyes open and their heads up and pay attention to any changes in the weather,” fire team spokesman Jamie Knight told The Durango Herald.

About 1,900 homes have been evacuated since the fire began June 1, though 560 homes were declared safe late Wednesday, allowing some residents to return.

“We were just happy to get back. We were tired of living out of suitcases. You can imagine four people and two large Labs in small hotel rooms,” Joe Hardman told the Herald after going home with his wife, two daughters and two Labrador retrievers.

The fire forced Colorado’s San Juan National Forest tourist destination to close but hasn’t destroyed any homes. More than 1,050 firefighters backed by air tankers and water-dropping helicopters had contained 15 percent of the blaze, said Cameron Eck, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Incident firefighting team.

Just west of the Continental Divide, Summit County officials said they stopped a 90-acre (35-hectare) fire from reaching 1,300 homes in the Colorado town of Silverthorne, a popular jumping-off point for ski resorts. That fire was human caused, and an investigation was ongoing, Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino said.

In southern Wyoming, firefighters battled a 17-square-mile (44 square kilometer) fire in the Medicine Bow National Forest that forced the evacuation of nearly 400 homes in 10 small communities. That blaze has destroyed one home and two outbuildings.

On Wednesday, a fast-moving brush fire destroyed eight homes in the southern Utah tourist town of Moab. Several firefighters and residents were treated for smoke inhalation or heat exhaustion.

Natalie Sullivan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder, said the parched region could get rain starting Saturday as remnants of Tropical Storm Bud arrive from the south.

That’s a mixed blessing for firefighters, meteorologist Mike Charnick told the Herald. Storms could produce flash flooding and landslides in burn scar area, “and it doesn’t take a whole lot of rainfall to do that,” Charnick said.


Associated Press writers Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque and Matt Volz in Helena contributed to this report.

Montana fire season forecast to be big, despite snowy winter Thu, 14 Jun 2018 15:28:31 -0400 MATT VOLZ HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A soggy Montana may still be recovering from spring flooding after one of the snowiest winters on record, but state officials are preparing for what is forecast to be an above-average wildfire season starting next month.

Department of Natural Resources and Conservation officials and the Montana National Guard scheduled a briefing Thursday afternoon to assess Montana’s readiness after last year’s fires exhausted the state’s firefighting cash reserves.

Montana, coming off a winter that approached or broke snowfall records, is faring better than other Western states that had a dry, warm winter. In Colorado and Utah, for example, early season fires have forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

By contrast, the Northern Rockies were one of only two areas of the country without active fires as of Thursday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Ninety percent of Montana is experiencing normal moisture, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but the land is already drying out fast with temperatures in May running 5 degrees above average. By mid-July, the threat for significant wildland fires will be above normal in northern and western Montana, according to the fire center.

By August and September, that above-normal threat will extend to south central Montana.

Montana is still recovering from last year’s fire season, when 1,500 square miles burned and cost the state $68.7 million, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spokesman John Grassy said.

That doesn’t count the U.S. government’s costs to respond to fires on federal lands.

State lawmakers trying to close a budget shortfall transferred $30 million from a state fund used for wildfire costs last year before the worst of the fires ignited. Then, what had been forecast as a normal fire season turned into one of the most expensive seasons on record, quickly wiping out the $32 million remaining in the fund and sinking the state into a deeper financial hole.

The state government will enter this year’s fire season with just $4.1 million in the fund, Grassy said.

Proposed US banking fix for marijuana may not open all doors Thu, 14 Jun 2018 15:23:40 -0400 MICHAEL R. BLOOD LOS ANGELES (AP) — A proposal in Congress to ease the U.S. ban on marijuana could encourage more banks to do business with cannabis companies, but it appears to fall short of a cure-all for an industry that must operate mainly as a cash business in a credit card world.

Marijuana is legal in some form in about 30 states, but companies that grow or sell it often are locked out at banks. Their money isn’t wanted because the drug is illegal under federal law and transactions tied to pot proceeds could expose financial institutions to money-laundering charges.

The bipartisan measure — which received tentative support from President Donald Trump — would ensure states have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana, without federal interference. It also includes language intended to address the banking gap caused by the federal ban.

The legislation has been praised as a strong step, but “standing alone, it’s likely not a silver bullet for the banking problem,” said California pot industry attorney Nicole Howell Neubert, a member of a state task force that studied the banking stalemate.

“Most financial institutions will be looking for even more affirmative direction from (Washington) to feel comfortable with banking cannabis companies,” she said in a statement.

The shortage of banking services has been a major obstacle to the industry, often forcing businesses to conduct sales and pay vendors and taxes in cash, sometimes in vast amounts that can become targets for criminals.

The number of financial institutions working with marijuana companies has been growing, but it’s still a small fraction overall.

The Mountain West Credit Union Association and the Maine Credit Union League said in a joint statement that the legislation would “provide the certainty we need ... to service this growing industry.”

The measure, which faces an uncertain future in Congress, does not legalize marijuana nationally. But it takes steps to allow banks to handle marijuana funds without the risk of federal prosecution.

For example, it says money from marijuana businesses in states where the drug is legal would no longer be considered illegal proceeds, and it would allow banks to accept those funds without breaking money-laundering laws.

Even then, risk remains as banks face a range of compliance rules by accepting marijuana-linked money. The Bank Secrecy Act requires that banks know their customers well enough to ensure they are not engaging in money laundering, said Julie A. Hill, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law.

“This likely means that a bank accepting marijuana money would have to do enough research to know that their customers are complying with state law regarding the sale of marijuana,” Hill said. “The bank would likely have to confirm that the marijuana is not sold to minors or sold for transport to states where it is illegal.”

Banks could face penalties if they don’t meet such requirements.

They also are urged to watch for warning signs of possible illegal activity, such as financial statements provided by a business not squaring with account activity.

Because the cost of doing such research would be high, some banks might choose to stay away from marijuana money, Hill said in an email.

If the legislation passes, it’s likely marijuana will stay illegal in some conservative-leaning states, such as South Dakota and Kansas. Some banks in those states might then be uneasy about handling marijuana dollars coming from places where the drug is legal.

“I don’t imagine the ... financial institution would take that risk to take in funds from a business considered illegal in that state,” said Beth Mills of the Western Bankers Association.

Another uncertainty that could give banks pause: The conflict between Trump, who signaled his support for the legislation, and his own Justice Department.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions staunchly opposes marijuana and lifted an Obama administration policy in order to allow federal prosecutors to more aggressively pursue cases in states that have legalized marijuana.

Colorado tried to set up a credit union in 2015 to serve the pot industry but the Federal Reserve blocked it. In Oregon, the state Department of Revenue built a fortress-like office for dropping off and counting cash.

Some pot businesses have tried to open bank accounts by setting up management companies or nonprofit organizations with ambiguous names — basically, by misleading the banks. But those accounts can be shut down if a bank realizes where the money is coming from.

Other proposals in Congress also are intended to open the way for more banks to handle marijuana dollars, but it’s not clear if any have enough support to reach Trump’s desk.

After a House committee rejected one such measure Wednesday, Kevin Sabet, head of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonpartisan group opposed to marijuana legalization, said it would have “opened up direct access to Wall Street investment into the sales and marketing of pot candies, cookies and ice creams.”

Editorial: Solar power, honeybees and saving farmland Thu, 14 Jun 2018 13:26:20 -0400 It looks to us that officials in Oregon’s Clackamas County have stretched an exception in land-use laws to approve a large solar energy project on farmland.

We support 1,000 Friends of Oregon in its appeal of the project’s conditional use permit before the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals.

Under Oregon’s land use law, solar power facilities can be no larger than 12 acres without an exception to the statewide goal of preserving farmland. But Steve Schmitt and Pacific Northwest Solar LLC proposed building a 73-acre solar facility near Estacada in Clackamas County.

The developer came up with a novel concept that convinced the county hearing officer the solar facility will not preclude the property’s use as a commercial agricultural enterprise. The company plans to place 100 honeybee colonies at the site while cultivating “bee-friendly forage” around the solar panels and “shade resistant native plants” beneath them.

The hearing officer ruled the project will not preclude the property’s use as a commercial agricultural enterprise and will take up less than 12 acres since the area under the panels will be used for forage.

It’s a creative approach, but one we find problematic.

We suspect this interpretation wasn’t quite what the drafters of the land use laws had in mind when they contemplated exceptions. There is no doubt that keeping bees is an agricultural pursuit, but in this scenario it seems marginal compared to the potential of what could be produced on 73 acres of farm ground. That seems backwards.

We look forward to the Land Board’s take on this question.

The controversy has prompted the Oregon Board of Agriculture to seek stronger protections for farmland in the siting of energy projects.

The production of “sustainable” and renewable energy is a priority for Oregonians. So is the preservation of the state’s farmland. Because solar and wind projects require the same open space often occupied by farmers and ranchers, these priorities are often in conflict with one another.

At the very least, the rules for what can constitute an exception, and what cannot, must be made more clear.

Editorial: Statewide officials, statewide perspective Thu, 14 Jun 2018 10:26:43 -0400 A ballot initiative to carve California into three states reminds us of another idea that surfaced three years ago in eastern Oregon and Washington. It would make those largely rural regions a part of Idaho, whose state government is more agriculture-friendly.

Idaho leaders have staked the state’s future on agriculture, while many Washington and Oregon leaders appear to be more interested in other more urbane pursuits. When they do take note of agriculture, they tend to focus only on certain segments instead of the overall industry.

The proposals to redraw the borders of California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho are efforts to gain more recognition from statewide office holders.

In California, a state with nearly 40 million people, the urban areas have the lion’s share of political clout in Sacramento. Farmers and ranchers find themselves ignored or treated as second-class Californians. Issues important to them often take a backseat to urban concerns.

While politicians are expected to represent their districts, they also have a duty to learn about and represent the state as a whole. What’s good for Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego is important, but not to the detriment of the other parts of the state, and vice versa. A statewide perspective means keeping the interests of all Californians in mind.

Residents of eastern Oregon and Washington, both rural areas dependent on farming, ranching and timber, also say they are under represented in Salem and Olympia. The fact that the Cascade Range splits the states makes the problem even worse. Westside politicians rarely make the trek over the mountains to the eastside — unless they are campaigning for office. If they win, eastside interests will usually take a backseat to westside priorities.

Proponents say splitting California or adding eastern Washington and Oregon to Idaho would provide a bigger voice for all in the new states.

We doubt it.

Drawing more lines on a map isn’t needed. What’s needed is politicians who take the time to learn about the rural areas of their states and look out for the interests of all citizens, not just those in their home districts with big wallets.

They need to consider the welfare of their whole states.

U.S. House set to take up immigration bills Thu, 14 Jun 2018 10:24:38 -0400 Dan Wheat A new agricultural labor reform bill is expected to be voted on in the U.S. House in July as part of deal to avert moderate Republicans and Democrats from bypassing GOP leadership and voting on immigration reform.

Bill language isn’t available yet but hopefully will be more to the liking of most agricultural groups, allowing legal status for current workers and avoiding a cap on the number of foreign guestworkers, said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council for Agricultural Employers in Washington, D.C.

“We may end up with ag labor provisions that will be very, very good,” Marsh said.

While a so-called discharge petition to bypass leadership failed, it bore fruit by forcing some floor votes, he said.

The discharge petition reportedly fell two votes short because House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., promised action to about a half dozen GOP members who were considering backing the discharge petition, including Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

Ryan promised floor votes the week of June 17 on a new immigration compromise between GOP moderates and conservatives to address DACA and border security. He also promised a vote on HR 4760 addressing agricultural guestworker reform and a vote on a new ag labor reform bill in July. There are doubts any of the measures will pass.

HR 4760, sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., is not expected to pass, so a different plan will be prepared for a July vote, Marsh said.

DACA — Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals — is a 2014 executive order by then-President Barack Obama that granted children of illegal immigrants renewable two-year deferrals from deportation and work permits.

Many Republicans viewed it as unconstitutional. President Donald Trump tried to rescind DACA and courts intervened but Congress has authority to address it.

It isn’t clear if the new DACA compromise will include a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, a key sticking point, Marsh said.

Newhouse said DACA recipients in his district — a major tree-fruit-growing region of Washington — want certainty of protection from deportation and that the new compromise is the best way to get there. He said he’s keeping his options open but decided, for now, not to sign the discharge petition given Ryan’s commitment to bring bills to the floor including a new ag labor bill.

“Agriculture is a labor-intensive industry, and there remains a shortage of domestic labor,” Newhouse said in a June 12 news release.

“Our farmers and ranchers much have access to a legal and reliable workforce in order to provide the world with a safe and abundant supply of food,” he said.

The National Council for Agricultural Employers did not endorse HR 4760 in order to optimize leverage to change it, Marsh said.

The bill would replace the H-2A agricultural foreign guestworker program with a new H-2C program that capped the number of workers at 410,000 per year. H-2A has no cap. Existing illegal workers would be required to return to their country of origin and re-enter as H-2C workers. That, with the cap, E-verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility) and other complications for existing workers jeopardizes a “seamless flow” of workers, Marsh said.

“A cap is like the government dictating to you that you only need three workers when you know you need 10. That’s just devastating to an employer who knows better what he needs to harvest a crop,” he said.

“H-2A is cumbersome and has challenges but it works and is growing,” Marsh said. “It’s important to get this right. It’s critical to have labor or you are out of business.”

Tough new trespass law brings implications for agriculture Thu, 14 Jun 2018 10:07:51 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas SUN VALLEY, Idaho — While many agriculture groups in Idaho supported a new stiffer trespass law passed by the Legislature this spring, it could have unintended consequences for irrigation district employees.

Proponents of the controversial legislation argued that Idaho’s trespass laws were a “mess,” Kent Fletcher, an attorney who represents three irrigation districts, said during the Idaho Water Users water law conference on Monday.

They contended the laws lacked protection for property owners and were confusing and inconsistently applied, he said.

But the new law comes with increased penalties and adds felony trespass for a third offense to the books and could prove detrimental to irrigation district employees engaging in day-to-day practices, he said.

The concern lies in the new definition of trespass: “any person who enters or remains upon the real property of another person without permission.”

Trespass used to be just remaining on property when told to leave. Now entering property is also trespass under the law, he said.

It used to be that a person was told to get off of property and given a warning not to return. Now just being on property is assumed to be trespass, he said.

It’s a common practice for irrigation district employees to cut across property to reach a headgate, not necessarily staying within the district’s easement. Sometimes that came with an objection from the landowner, with landowners wanting to press trespass charges, he said. But sheriffs and prosecutors were reluctant to pursue the charge, given no damages and the relatively innocent behavior.

With the new law, it will be more difficult to ignore these types of complaints by landowners, and the employee — who typically doesn’t make a lot of money — is going to be the one charged, he said.

“If a landowner gets upset with an irrigation entity, he will use trespass as a weapon against the irrigation district. They’ll use a trespass charge not because there’s damage” but because they have an issue with the district, he said.

“My concern is that under the law, it makes it much easier to sue employees for trespass and makes it more costly to them if they’re convicted criminally or become liable in a criminal lawsuit,” he said.

It’s not trespass to enter or stay as long as you have right to use the easement and the easement is being used for its designated purpose, he said.

He suggests irrigation districts review their easements and educate their employees. An easement is not going to protect employees if they’re walking down a canal bank to go fishing or get to their house, he said.

The law also has implications for water users who walk up a canal bank to change a headgate. Even if their irrigation district has an easement, the water user is not the owner or operator of that entity that holds the easement, he said.

“It’s easy to see all the horrible things that could happen,” he said.

Maybe they don’t happen, it’ll depend on how the law is handled, he said.

Longtime Spokane truck company closes after 50 years Thu, 14 Jun 2018 10:04:24 -0400 Matw Weaver SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Mark Huber’s customers are going to miss him.

The feeling is mutual.

“I’ve had a lot of tears with customers — when you get a hug and they tell you they love you, you know, you’ve done a good job,” he said. “We worked with a lot of people who became my friends, they were like a family to us.”

Huber closed the doors to Arlo Huber & Son Inc. May 31, after “50 years and one month.”

His father, Arlo, started the trucking business. Mark joined his father at the age of 18. They had five trucks, took the number up to 31 in the 1990s and early 2000s and were down to 16 trucks at the time of closure.

The Hubers hauled grain, seed, hot oil, produce, fertilizer and livestock.

“We’ve pretty much hauled it all in the agricultural industry,” Mark said.

Mark most enjoyed hauling grain and meeting new people around Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

Huber cites more customers buying their own trucks, the arrival of grain trains in the region and fewer farmers as reasons for the closure. Finding drivers is difficult, he said. Many of the people he worked with in recent years are retiring.

“There’s not a lot of young people coming into farming or trucking, and that needs to change,” he said. “I think it’s going to get better for the industry in the long run.”

Mark sold all 16 trucks in one day through word-of-mouth and is selling some trailers. He sold the grain trailer business Huber Trailer Sales to his son and nephew. Now 87, Arlo still goes to work there, he said.

Mark will focus on his rental properties and perhaps find a job.

“I’ve sat here and worried for 40 years about everybody else; I want to have no more worries,” he said. “I just want to enjoy life.”

“They will be sorely missed,” said Hal Meenach, Valleyford, Wash., farmer and president of the Spokane County Farm Bureau.

Meenach said the trucking business closure means less access for farmers to a market they depend on. More farmers will need their own trucks, an expense that’s out of reach except for larger-sized growers, he said.

“We still have the same options, it’s just fewer of them,” he said.

“I think the real impact won’t be felt until we go about a year and see just how big an impact it is going to be,” said Doug Kuhn, plant superintendent for Spokane Seed.

The Hubers hauled for the company for decades, Kuhn said. Spokane Seed will have to find other trucking companies to haul what it can’t handle on its own, he said.

“There’s no doubt someone is going to have to fill those shoes,” he said.

Huber hears positive things about the upcoming harvest from customers.

“I’m sad that I won’t be there to help out,” he said. “I hope that it works for everybody because I still have a lot of farm friends. I wish them all the best.”

Huber is grateful to the customers and employees he’s worked with over the years.

“When I walk in and my employees hug me before I go to work ... that’s success,” he said. “It’s been a good run.”

New Yellowstone boss named following predecessor’s ouster Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:54:47 -0400 MATTHEW BROWN BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A new superintendent was named Wednesday to Yellowstone National Park, one of the crown jewels of the U.S. park system, after his predecessor said he was being forced out by the Trump administration following a dispute over bison.

Cameron “Cam” Sholly will replace Dan Wenk, who has been superintendent since 2011.

Wenk planned to retire next March but was told last week he would be gone by August. He said his ouster followed disagreements with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over the size of the park’s world-famous bison herds.

Ranchers and state livestock officials in neighboring Montana, where Zinke served as a U.S. representative before he became Interior secretary, have pushed to reduce the size of the herds because of concerns over the disease brucellosis. About half of Yellowstone’s bison test positive for the disease, which can cause animals to prematurely abort their young.

Park biologists contend the population of more than 4,000 bison is sustainable. But Zinke and his staff have said the number is too high, Wenk said, and have raised concerns that Yellowstone’s scenic Lamar Valley is being damaged by overgrazing.

The Interior Department has not commented on Wenk’s claims.

Sholly served as Midwest regional director for the park service since 2015, where he was involved in reintroducing wolves to Isle Royale National Park, oversaw a $380 million renovation of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and worked to improve relations with American Indian tribes, according to the Interior Department.

Sholly did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a statement put out by the Interior Department, he said he was honored to have the chance to work at Yellowstone, established in 1872 as the first national park.

Yellowstone covers 3,400 square miles straddling the borders of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Its erupting geysers, cascading waterfalls and abundant wildlife attract tourists from around the world.

More than 4 million people visited in each of the past three years and last month was the park’s busiest May on record. That’s put an increasing strain on its natural resources and led to frequent conflicts between people and wildlife, including visitors injured by grizzly bears, bison, elk and other animals.

Sholly is a third-generation park service employee and went to high school just north of Yellowstone in Gardiner, Montana, when his father was assigned to Yellowstone, said Alex Picavet, chief of communications for the park service’s Midwest region.

His first job for the park service was in Yellowstone in 1990, as a seasonal worker in the park’s maintenance division, Picavet said. Sholly, an Army veteran who was deployed to the Gulf War, later served as chief of ranger operations for Yosemite National Park and superintendent of Natchez Trace Parkway, a scenic byway that runs through Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

Wenk pledged a smooth transition and said Sholly would be a “really good fit for Yellowstone” given his variety of experiences in the park service.

At Yellowstone, he’ll oversee an 800-person staff and an annual budget of more than $60 million.

“The Midwest region is very sad to have him leave,” Picavet said. “He’s a strong leader who has brought amazing change and opportunity to the Midwest region.”

Sholly’s start date is yet to be determined, said Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift.

His father, Dan Sholly, gained prominence as Yellowstone’s chief ranger in the 1980s and 1990s, a period that included the controversial reintroduction of gray wolves and the massive fires of 1988 that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in the park. He was demoted and transferred to Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida following allegations in 1997 from his former secretary that Sholly denied. An administrative judge determined Dan Sholly misbehaved but dismissed a sexual harassment claim against him.

Yellowstone faced a more extensive harassment scandal under Wenk that echoed problems in other national parks.

Members of the park’s maintenance department were disciplined last year after an investigation found female employees faced sexual harassment and other problems.

Wenk said those problems never were brought up in discussions about his possible transfer or retirement that led up to his ouster.


Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter at .

US retail sales boom in May, but inflation is lurking Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:48:54 -0400 CHRISTOPHER RUGABERAP Economics Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales rose by the most in six months in May, a sign that confident consumers are leading a strong economic rebound after a slow start to the year.

Yet with high gas prices and inflation eating away at income gains made by workers, Americans may not be able to maintain this level of spending.

Retail sales jumped 0.8 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday, the largest increase since November. Excluding the volatile gas and auto categories, sales rose 0.8 percent. April’s sales growth was revised higher, from 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent.

Americans are highly confident about the economy, buoyed by steady job gains, an unemployment rate at an 18-year low, and the Trump administration’s tax cuts. The solid job gains have meant more Americans are earning paychecks, and spending them.

Healthier consumer spending has boosted the economy after a sluggish first quarter. Analysts forecast growth is likely to reach 4 percent in the April-June quarter, up from 2.2 percent in the first three months of the year.

“The consumer is on fire,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities. “The combination of lower taxes and a drum-tight labor market are producing very solid growth in disposable income.”

Sales at home and garden stores jumped 2.4 percent, the most in eight months, and rose 2 percent at gas stations. Both partly reflect higher prices, particularly gas sales, though home and garden stores are likely seeing higher prices for lumber and other building materials, partly because of strong demand for new housing.

Despite rising gas prices, Americans spent more at restaurants and bars, as well as at clothing stores, with sales rising 1.3 percent for both. Department store sales increased 1.5 percent.

Americans may not be able to maintain that spending pace. Inflation, led by pricier fuel, has picked up, leaving most Americans with paychecks that, adjusted for inflation, haven’t increased in the past year.

Many have dipped into savings. The U.S. saving rate slipped to 3.1 percent in the first three months of the year, down from 3.9 percent a year earlier and 4.9 percent in 2016.

And shoppers are still exhibiting some caution — consumer borrowing growth fell to its slowest pace in seven months in April, mostly because a category that includes auto and student loans increased more slowly. If they remain reluctant to borrow more, that could also slow spending.

The Federal Reserve lifted interest rates for the second time this year Wednesday, which will raise credit card interest rates and may boost mortgage rates in the coming months.

Still, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the decision to raise rates reflected the Fed’s judgment that the economy is in “great shape.”

Retail sales are closely watched by economists because they provide an early read on consumer spending, the principal driver of the U.S. economy. Store purchases account for about one-third of U.S. consumer spending. Spending on services, such as landscaping and mobile phones plans, makes up the remaining two-thirds.

Agency considers dropping wolf protections Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:43:36 -0400 JOHN FLESHERAP Environmental Writer TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The federal government is considering another attempt to drop legal protections for gray wolves across the lower 48 states, reopening a lengthy battle over the predator species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday told The Associated Press it has begun a science-based review of the status of the wolf, which presently is covered by the Endangered Species Act in most of the nation and cannot be killed unless threatening human life.

If the agency decides to begin the process of removing of the wolf from the endangered species list, it will publish a proposal by the end of the year.

“Any proposal will follow a robust, transparent and open public process that will provide opportunity for public comment,” the service said in a statement to the AP.

The government first proposed revoking the wolf’s protected status in 2013, but backed off after federal courts struck down its plan for “delisting” the species in the western Great Lakes region.

Long despised by farmers and ranchers, wolves were shot, trapped and poisoned out of existence in most of the U.S. by the mid-20th century. Since securing protection in the 1970s, they have bounced back in parts of the country.

They total about 3,800 in the western Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Other established populations are in the Northern Rockies, where they are no longer listed as endangered, and the Pacific Northwest.

Federal regulators contend they’ve recovered sufficiently for their designation as endangered to be removed and management responsibilities handed over to the states. Environmental groups say it’s too early for that, as wolves still haven’t returned to most of their historical range.

“Time and again the courts have told the service that wolves need further recovery before their protections can be removed,” said Collette Adkins, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But the agency is dead set on appeasing special interests who want to kill these amazing animals.”

Members of Congress have tried numerous times to strip wolves of legal protection. Another bill to do so is pending in the U.S. House.

Not just heat: Climate change signs can be seen all around Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:39:53 -0400 BY SETH BORENSTEINAP Science Writer WASHINGTON (AP) — You don’t just feel the heat of global warming, you can see it in action all around.

Some examples of where climate change’s effects have been measured:

•Glaciers across the globe are melting and retreating, with 279 billion tons of ice lost since 2002, according to NASA’s GRACE satellite. Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland is flowing faster than any other glacier on Earth. In 2012, it hit a record pace of about 75 inches per hour. In 2017, it slowed down to 40 inches per hour. The Portage Glacier in Alaska has retreated so much it cannot be seen from the visitor center that opened in 1986.

•In the Rocky Mountains, the first robins of spring are arriving 10.5 days earlier than 30 years ago. The first larkspur wildflower is showing up eight days earlier and the marmots are coming out of hibernation five days earlier, according to data gathered by the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab.

•On average, during the past 30 years there have been more major hurricanes (those with winds of more than 110 mph), they have lasted longer and they produced more energy than the previous 30 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of storm data. Other studies have shown that the first named storm in the Atlantic forms nearly a month earlier than 30 years ago and storms are moving slower, allowing more rain to fall.

•Across the globe, seas have risen about 3 inches since 1993. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is enough to cover the entire United States in water about 9 feet deep. Places like Miami Beach, Florida, and Norfolk, Virginia, flood frequently with high tides.

•The number of acres burned in the U.S. by wildfire has doubled compared with 30 years ago. Last year, more than 10 million acres burned. Over the last five years, an average of 6.7 million acres burned a year. From 1984 to 1988, about 2.8 million years burned, on average.

•Allergies have gotten worse with longer growing seasons and more potent pollen. High ragweed pollen days have increased by between 15 and 29 days since 1990 in a swath of the country from Oklahoma City north to Winnipeg, Canada, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study.

•In the western United States the cute rodent called a pika needs weather around freezing for most of the year. But those habitats are shrinking, forcing them to higher altitudes. University of Colorado’s Chris Ray, a pika expert, said she hasn’t definitively linked climate change to dramatic reductions in pika populations, but she found that they have disappeared more from places that are warming and drying.

•Extreme one-day rainfall across the nation has increased 80 percent over the past 30 years. Ellicott City, Maryland, had so-called thousand-year floods in 2016 and this year. Flooding in Louisiana, West Virginia and Houston in 2016, South Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma in 2015, Michigan and parts of the Northeast in 2014 all caused more than $1 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

•The number of polar bears in parts of Alaska dropped 40 percent since the late 1990s. When scientists have weighed polar bears recently in certain locations they were losing 2.9 to 5.5 pounds per day at a time of year when they were supposed to be putting on weight.

•Warmer water is repeatedly causing mass global bleaching events to Earth’s fragile coral reefs. Before 1998 there had been no global mass bleaching events — which turn the living coral white and often lead to death. But there have been three in the last two decades. U.S. government coral reef specialist Mark Eakin said for multiple reasons, including global warming, “most of the reefs that were in great shape in the 1980s in Florida are just barely hanging on now.”

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Study: 2014 Napa quake may be linked to groundwater changes Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:33:04 -0400 NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Research suggests the magnitude 6.0 earthquake that rocked California wine country in 2014 may have been caused by an expansion of Earth’s crust because of seasonally receding groundwater under the Napa and Sonoma valleys.

The vineyard-filled valleys flank the West Napa Fault, which produced the quake that killed one person, injured several hundred and caused more than $500 million in losses.

The study recently published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth suggests land between the valleys is stretched each summer as groundwater levels fall beneath the valleys and the ground in the valleys sinks and contracts.

The amount of the horizontal stretching measured is tiny — about 3 millimeters (0.12 inch) — but enough to stress faults, according to the researchers.

“We think it’s more of a localized effect, something related to the groundwater system. We don’t know if it is groundwater pumping specifically, or something related to how the natural aquifer system works, or a combination,” said lead author Meredith Kraner, formerly of the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University in New York and now with the University of Nevada, Reno.

Co-authors were William E. Holt of Stony Brook University and Adrian A. Borsa of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

The early morning Napa quake on Aug. 24, was the largest to hit the San Francisco Bay Area since the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake of Oct. 17, 1989.

It left 8 miles of surface rupture and damaged many historical masonry buildings and older residences, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Farmer, ethanol producers rally during EPA chief’s visit Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:27:37 -0400

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Farmers and ethanol producers gave Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt a rough reception in South Dakota, accusing him of undermining the industry that’s a key part of the state’s economy.

About 200 people rallied in Sioux Falls on Wednesday, urging Pruitt to support federal ethanol mandates, the Argus Leader reported. They criticized him for granting waivers to oil producers that allow them to ignore ethanol-blending rules. The renewable fuel standards have for years been essential to driving ethanol production.

“We’re here today to bring awareness to everyone in the state of South Dakota and the Upper Midwest that the administrator is not doing his job,” Houghton-area farmer Troy Knecht said.

Pruitt said it’s important to understand that the EPA works with other government agencies to determine who receives a waiver.

“It’s not a decision the EPA makes in isolation,” he said.

Pruitt also heard from farmers during a two-hour visit to a Reliance farm that wasn’t publicized and was closed to the public. A Daily Republic reporter was turned away but later allowed access.

Pruitt joked about his reception.

“As I came to South Dakota, there were a few billboards greeting me, and they didn’t say ‘I hope you’re having fun,’” Pruitt said. Instead, the administrator said he saw messages imploring him to support ethanol over big oil.

Idaho tax commission weighs hops equipment exemption Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:25:37 -0400 Brad Carlson Capital Press

The Idaho State Tax Commission is considering the impact of a new state law that guarantees hop growers won’t have to pay local property tax on production equipment.

The commission’s Property Tax Rules Committee on June 12 stopped short of initiating a rule-making process tied to the new law for now, and instead formed a separate committee to study the law as it relates not only to hops, but also to the definition of “production” in other types of agriculture.

Hops equipment taxation emerged as an issue in the 2018 Idaho Legislature after some growers received assessments.

Since 2000 the state has exempted from property tax any equipment used in agriculture production. But several counties want to tax dryers and other types of equipment that isn’t used in the hop yards.

The Legislature on March 22 passed House Bill 594, which amends the property tax law to ensure the agricultural equipment exemption from property tax includes hops equipment. The law will expire after two years, giving the property committee time to sort out the issue.

For growers of hops and some other crops, the first “sellable unit” is often created off the field. Hops, for example, require drying before they can be sold.

Alan Dornfest, the commission’s property tax bureau chief, said more work needs to be done to clarify the meaning and application of “production” in applying the state’s exemption on property tax for agriculture equipment. That’s what the new committee, headed by commission Tax Policy Specialist Rick Anderson, will aim to do.

“Where does ‘production’ stop?” Dornfest said in an interview. “Now we say it’s only in the field, but that is not in rule — it’s only an interpretation.”

He said the new law’s reference to “production” should be clarified given that a food processing plant may argue its equipment should be exempt from property tax because it is needed to make the first sellable product.

Canyon County Chief Deputy Assessor Joe Cox said the southwest Idaho county early this year sent assessment notices to hop farmers. Members of the commission’s Property Tax Rules Committee said Boundary County, in north Idaho, also wants to tax hops equipment.

Cox said it’s a county assessor’s responsibility to tax all property unless it is explicitly exempted. Canyon County traditionally viewed the ag equipment exemption as ending “once the crop hits the road” for processing or storage, he said.

Hop growers say off-field steps such as separating the cones from vines and cleaning and drying them are required before shipment-ready bales are produced.

The 2018 law adds hops to the agricultural equipment and machinery that is exempt from property tax — specifically, that used in “hop crops including, but not limited to, stationary picking machines, drying kilns, fans and burners, conveyors and other equipment to move hop crops and baling equipment; hop crops including, but not limited to, rhizomes, bines, leaves, stems and cones,” House Bill 594 text reads.

Cox said the existing law exempting production-ag equipment from property tax was unclear on hops, and the tax commission’s new subcommittee is a good idea.

Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, who co-sponsored the legislation, said the new law expires after two years “to protect hop growers from an immediate tax increase, yet create an opportunity in time to address the issues.”

Definitions of agricultural production, raw product and sellable good can be addressed by the new committee, he said. Other crops that go through post-field procedures during harvest, such as mint and honey, also could be explored, he said.

“My guess is we will come out of here with at least a recommendation or options to address questions — where production ends and processing begins,” Anderst said.

Hop grower Mike Gooding of Parma said that legislation would more clearly direct counties than rules, which can be open to interpretation and easier to change.

He said the hops industry in southwest Idaho has spent nearly $30 million in the last five years on new or expanded harvest equipment facilities.

Grizzly bear dies after eating pesticides in garage Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:24:53 -0400 GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A grizzly bear died after eating pesticides in an open garage between Great Falls and Fort Benton in north-central Montana.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say the sub-adult female and a sibling were seen in the area about 11 miles northwest of Carter in recent days. The 143-pound grizzly died Monday within hours of ingesting the chemicals.

Wildlife managers are trying to trap the second bear, which has been getting into pet food and spilled grain south of the Teton River.

The state agency has received several reports in recent weeks of grizzly bears on the plains east of the Rocky Mountain Front. Residents are advised to make sure any garbage, pet food, bird seed and other attractants are put away or cleaned up to prevent bears from being drawn to residences.

Lawsuit Aims To Protect Salmon From Logging On Oregon State Forests Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:23:35 -0400 Cassandra ProfitaOPB A lawsuit filed Wednesday argues the Oregon Department of Forestry’s logging practices are hurting protected coho salmon and violating the Endangered Species Act.

Five conservation and fishing groups are making the case in U.S. District Court that logging on steep slopes and road-building in the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests of northwest Oregon are damaging salmon habitat by causing landslides and erosion.

Noah Greenwald with the Center for Biological Diversity said dumping harmful sediment onto coho spawning grounds is a violation of the Endangered Species Act because the state doesn’t have a Habitat Conservation Plan for the fish.

“Oregon Department of Forestry has been promising they’re going to do more to take care of streams and coho salmon for a long time, and they’ve just really not come through,” he said. “They continue to do a lot of logging on steep steep, landslide-prone slopes that lead to serious sediment problems in streams for coho salmon.”

The state started working on a Habitat Conservation Plan for threatened coastal coho in the late 1990s, but the plan was never finished.

The five groups — including the Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Cascadia Wildlands — are asking the court to prohibit certain logging practices until the state has a protection plan.

“We’re not saying they have to stop all logging,” Greenwald said. “They need to fix their road system and they need to scale back their logging on steep slopes.”

Logging on the Clatsop and Tillamook state forests is a key source of funding for area counties. Some counties have sued the state for not logging enough and denying them millions of dollars in revenue.

The Oregon Department of Forestry did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The latest federal recovery plan for coastal coho lists habitat loss and degradation as a key factor in rebuilding their population, which has dwindled to less than 100,000 fish in recent years.

BLM releases 26 wild horses in Idaho following 2015 fire Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:20:07 -0400

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — The Bureau of Land Management has released 26 wild horses into the Sands Basin Herd Management Area in southwestern Idaho.

The Idaho Press reported Wednesday that this marks the first time BLM-managed wild horses will roam in the area in three years following a 2015 wildfire.

The BLM says nearly all the Sands Basin Herd Management Area was burned by the fire that swept through southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.

Idaho’s Wild Horse and Burro team spokeswoman Heather Tiel-Nelson says Sands Basin is the first of three herd management areas affected by the wildfire to have wild horses return.

Managers say the land has recovered enough to allow the horses’ return.

Tiel-Nelson says horses are non-native animals and have no natural predator, so their numbers can double within four years.

Meat exports post strong gains in April Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:17:46 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas U.S. exports of pork, beef and lamb were up sharply in April over year-earlier levels, with pork volumes topping the record set in November 2016 and beef value setting a record for the month.

Pork exports were up 13 percent in both volume and value for an additional 27,000 metric tons and $66.6 million compared with April 2017, U.S. Meat Export Federation reported.

Those exports accounted for nearly 30 percent of U.S. pork production and added an average value of $58.45 per head of U.S. hog slaughter.

But pork trade could face headwinds due to new Mexican tariffs on U.S. pork in response to U.S. tariffs on imported Mexican steel and aluminum.

Mexico continues to be the pacesetter for pork exports with shipments reaching 79,019 metric tons worth $134.1 million in April. Those exports were up a whopping 34 percent in volume and 28 percent in value for an increase of 20,191 metric tons and $29,348 over year-earlier levels.

Through the first four months of the year, pork exports to Mexico ran 7 percent above last year’s record volume pace at 282,675 metric tons, with value up 6 percent to $505.4 million.

But maintaining that pace will be challenging, given Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on imports of U.S. pork, USMEF stated.

“The outstanding April performance for pork exports to Mexico really underscores the importance of this market to the U.S. industry,” Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, said in the latest export report.

While USMEF will continue to promote U.S. pork in Mexico and help U.S. suppliers retain business, the U.S. industry is going to have to fend off competitors who suddenly have a significant tariff-rate advantage, he said.

Mexico has hit U.S. pork with a 10 percent tariff that will increase to 20 percent after July 5.

With China imposing an additional 25 percent tariff on imports of U.S. pork in early April in response to U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods, pork producers are already hurting, National Pork Producers Council said in a statement this week.

Mexico is the largest export market for U.S. pork, representing nearly 25 percent of all U.S. pork shipments last year.

“A 20 percent tariff eliminates our ability to compete effectively in Mexico,” Jim Heimerl, NPPC president, said.

“This is devastating to my family and pork-producing families across the United States,” he said.

In the beef arena, exports in April were up 11 percent in volume and 23 percent in value over year earlier levels. They accounted for 14.1 percent of U.S. production and added an average value of $328.47 per head of U.S. cattle slaughter.

Japan remained the top market with shipments up 9 percent in volume to 25,650 metric tons and value up 14 percent to $166.6 million.

Lamb exports also posted impressive gains over last year’s low levels, with shipments up 97 percent and value up 48 percent over April 2017. Mexico was the top market, importing 872 metric tons worth $1.04 million.

Crunch time: When combines go rogue Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:17:20 -0400 Matw Weaver LIND, Wash. — When a five-ton combine going full speed rams into your combine, you feel it.

“It rattles every bone in your body,” said Eric Labes of Lind, Wash., one of 12 drivers in the June 9 Lind Combine Demolition Derby. “If it weren’t for the seatbelt, you’d probably fly out.”

Sometimes the collisions hurt. “Quite a few hurt today,” said Jim Oswald of Spokane, who was competing in his 15th derby.

In its 31st year, the derby is the main event of Lind’s annual weekend celebration and community fundraiser.

Driving in the derby is a one-of-a-kind experience, said longtime driver Josh Knodel of Lind.

“Especially for us farm boys,” Knodel said. “We grow up taught to take it easy, conserve your machine, slow down and don’t beat it up and then out here it’s just the total opposite. For us, it’s just, you know, let’s just rip them apart. Something your dad didn’t tell you when you first started driving, that’s for sure.”

The derby rules require only that drivers be older than 18 and have a driver’s license.

At the beginning of each heat, combines with names like “Grain Digger,” “Honey Badger” and “The Enticer” circled one another in the 80,000 square-foot arena, waiting for the signal to go. The crowd cheered when Knodel and longtime friend Matt Miller made the first crunch of the day, egged on by the amused announcers offering commentary over the loudspeaker.

In the crowd of several thousand, it’s hard to tell who’s more excited, the kids or their parents. Crowds “oohed” whenever a big hit was made, visibly shaking the drivers in their seats.

These combines have about 180 horsepower engines, longtime manager Mike Doyle said. Newer combines can have engines with up to 450 horsepower.

In addition to the derby, the weekend offers car and pickup truck races, plus a grain truck race, with the big rigs speeding around in a circle trying to pass each other.

When Joe Schluneger’s grain truck tipped over, he flashed a thumbs-up signal to the announcers and waited patiently for emergency crews to pull him out.

It was his second year in the race, and he’d never had a truck turn over before, the Almota, Wash., area resident said.

“Not here, anyway,” he told the Capital Press. “Maybe in the field when I was younger.”

Schluneger was unfazed.

“Farmers, we’re always competing,” he said. “It’s just something to do, where the farmers all get together. Just like the older cowboys used to get together and have a rodeo. Same thing.”

Will he race again next year?

“You bet I will,” Schluneger said.

Tips for anyone who’s thinking about it?

“Always wear your seat belt,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I recommend it for anybody.”

In 30 years, there have been only minor injuries, Doyle said. In the early days, a driver broke an arm, he said.

“We’ve been very lucky,” he said. “And we have four referees out in the arena at all times. We watch them pretty close.”

Lind is a tiny town in Washington state 77 miles southwest of Spokane.

“The town goes from 500 people to 4,500 people in a day,” said pit crew member Derrick Laird.

Born and raised in Lind, Laird remembers watching the events when he was 5 years old.

“It’s just a great time,” he said. “It’s a redneck show, out there smashing full machines. You don’t see that every day.”

Sponsored by the Lind Lions Club, the event typically plows $25,000 back into the Lind community, Knodel said. That’s about half the club’s budget, Doyle said. Projects include donations to the Lind Senior Center, fence at the city park, hosting an annual Easter egg hunt and supporting school organizations.

The remainder goes to maintaining the derby grounds.

“To bring that many people into town for the weekend is amazing,” Miller said. “It’s just a special event for the town.”

“It’s the only thing we have left in Lind,” Knodel said. “Without the combine demolition derby, we don’t bring people to Lind.”

Knodel and Miller first helped their dads modify their combines to compete in the derby in 2000, and have often driven since 2003.

At first, the derby was just a good way to hang out and spend time in the shop, Knodel said.

Now, as Lions Club members, they compete to keep the number of participating combines up and keep the show going. They balance driving with their duties running the cook shack with their families over the three-day weekend.

“Saturday we run the cook shack until derby time, then we go wreck the combine, then after we wreck the combine we come back and cook burgers until the band’s done playing at 11,” Knodel said.

State Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is an original derby driver. He competed in 17 or 18 derbies, winning or splitting first place several times.

“Some of the most fun I ever had,” he said of the experience.

Schoesler used to park a truck next to the fence at the event. He would sit on bales of straw in the back to watch the event, dubbing it the “Schoesler Skybox.”

When Schoesler’s son went on the rodeo circuit, he lost a valuable part of his pit crew. The legislature and farming kept him from competing, although he says friends keep urging him to return.

Schoesler has invited friends, staff and lobbyists to attend the derby. No one has ever come away disappointed, he said.

“It’s a fun part of our wheat farming heritage,” Schoesler said. “Anybody can have a car demolition derby, but not everybody can do combines.”

Sitting in the driver’s seat is a big rush, Tyran Doyle, son of Mike Doyle, said.

“You’re just kind of anxious to make your first hit,” Doyle said. “The first year, I was kind of nervous. But once you make a hit or two, it’s all downhill from there. You just try to focus on where you can make your next hit, and try not to be hit.”

Members of the pit crew experience a similar rush.

“A lot of it, we hope he does good and when he comes back to the pits, we don’t have a bunch of work to do,” Derrick Laird said. “We hope the combine held up and we’re not replacing everything known to man.”

Ordinarily, putting a new hydrostatic drive into a combine would be a full day’s project, Laird said.

But in the midst of the derby, with three or four people, it goes faster.

“Adrenaline’s going, we manhandle it in there within an hour and half, two hours sometimes,” he said.

“You’re watching what you made compete,” said his brother, Bryden Laird, a welder in the pit crew. “If they’re doing good, if they get a big hit, I get excited. I’m a fan watching what I love. It’s like someone watching their favorite team get a touchdown or a big hit.”

Competition is friendly, Derrick Laird said.

“Seeing what they’re doing, can we top it? Oh, that’s a great idea, we’ll match them,” he said. “The other drivers are constantly trying to find ideas. That’s fine, it’s all about letting the machines last longer.”

If someone needs a replacement tire, a competing team will lend it with the understanding that it’ll replaced before the next year, Derrick said.

“Friends in the pits, enemies in the arena,” Bryden Laird said.

Jim Oswald was the big winner of the June 9 derby, collecting the $1,200 top prize. It was his second solo win; he’s also tied for first several times. Two other drivers tied for second, each receiving $900.

It was also Oswald’s last time competing, he said. He’s going to spend more time with his family.

“It’s good to go out on top,” he said.

Oswald attributed his win to experience and his pit crew.

“My first few years were not very good,” he said. “You’ve got to get through those, look at (other) combines, figure out what they’re doing, show up and have fun.”

The number of drivers has decreased, from a peak of 23 about six years ago. Mike Doyle attributes that to the expense of preparing a combine for the show.

If scrap steel prices are up, farmers may want a higher price for the combine than derby teams are willing to pay, Derrick Laird said. Scrap prices are roughly $90 per ton, so a 5.5-ton combine could net a farmer $400. In the past, scrap’s been as high as $190 per ton.

By contrast, a new combine can cost a farmer upwards of $500,000, Mike Doyle said.

Knodel says another problem is the lack of a younger generation coming up through the ranks.

“There’s just not a lot of farm boys left any more that have the skillset or the resources,” he said.

Just to keep numbers up, the Lions Club has purchased combines from around the area for the past two years, transporting the machines to Lind and then selling them locally. The club has sold seven combines in recent years.

Show costs are higher each year, Knodel said, citing insurance, security and prizes.

This year was Josh Hernandez’s first turn at the wheel of a combine. He had helped on a pit crew for seven or eight years. A lifelong Lind resident, Hernandez figured it was time to run his own machine this year, after competing in the car and pickup races.

He called the experience “amazing.”

“You get a little butterflies at first, but when you actually get in there and get the first hit, it’s awesome,” he said. “Just do it. It’s a blast.”

If young people yearn to drive a combine, Knodel urges them to contact the Lions Club.

“Right now, we’re just in that survival mode of finding the next generation of people to enter and continue it,” he said.

As long as the organizers “keep doing everything right,” they’ll keep drawing a crowd, Miller said.

In the meantime, word about the event continues to spread.

“A lot of time, people ask me where I’m from and I say ‘Lind,’ and they’re like, ‘Where?’” Bryden Laird said. “And I’m like, ‘You ever hear of the combine derby?’ and they know exactly what I’m talking about.”

China warns US trade deals off if tariff hike goes ahead Thu, 14 Jun 2018 09:16:15 -0400

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government renewed its threat Thursday to scrap deals with Washington aimed at defusing a sprawling trade dispute as the White House prepared to release a list of Chinese goods targeted for tariff hikes.

President Donald Trump has threatened to raise tariffs on up to $150 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints about Beijing’s trade surplus and technology policy. As part of that, the White House is due to issue a list on Friday of $50 billion of Chinese goods targeted for a 25 percent tariff.

In Beijing, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters he had constructive discussions with Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on Thursday.

“Our deficit with China is still too high,” Pompeo said. “I stress how important it is for President Trump to rectify that situation so that trade becomes more balanced, more reciprocal and more fair, with the opportunity for American workers to be treated fairly.”

Beijing has promised to buy more American soybeans, natural gas and other exports but warned after June 3 talks between U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and China’s top economic official, Vice Premier Liu He, that all deals were off if Trump’s threatened tariffs went ahead.

“We made clear that if the U.S. rolls out trade sanction including the imposition of tariffs, all outcomes reached by the two sides in terms of trade and economy will not come into effect,” said a foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang. “I just want to repeat this point today.”

Beijing also has announced plans to cut import duties on autos and some consumer goods and to ease limits on foreign ownership in auto manufacturing, insurance and some other industries, though those don’t directly address U.S. complaints.

Economists also warn that Beijing will resist changing technology development policies Washington dislikes but that Chinese leaders see as successful.

The first round of tariff hikes planned by Washington is in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology in violation of its World Trade Organization market-opening commitments.

China also has threatened to retaliate with its own tariff hikes on $50 billion of U.S. exports including pork and soybeans, though authorities avoided renewing that threat following the latest round of talks.

On Thursday, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said some Chinese exporters are rushing to fill orders due to concern about possible trade risks. The spokesman didn’t mention Washington and Trump’s threat of tariff hikes.

“A few companies have increased the number of ‘short orders’ to avoid risks,” Gao Feng said at a regular briefing. “However, this is not the mainstream and will not affect our country’s situation of steady and healthy development of foreign trade.”

EPA transfers water pollution elimination program to Idaho DEQ Wed, 13 Jun 2018 08:36:12 -0400 Carol Ryan Dumas SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will transfer a key water pollution elimination permit program to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality next month.

EPA approved the Idaho Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program that aims to address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge into surface water from a single, identifiable conveyance. It will replace the EPA-operated National Pollution Discharge Elimination System.

“The agriculture industry feels it is going to be easier and quicker to deal with whatever rules and regulations are at hand,” said Steve Ritter of the Idaho Farm Bureau staff in Boise. “Agriculture prefers local control, not only on this issue, but others.”

The permitting program impacts agriculture broadly, from row crop fields and dairies to aquaculture, feedlots, food processors and canals that use aquatic herbicides. Under the Idaho permitting program, agriculture producers will be able to access specialists close to home and possibly receive permits sooner, he said.

Idaho dairies in the past held EPA’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, but none have had it since it became more complex about a decade ago, Idaho Dairymen’s Association CEO Bob Naerebout said.

“Our hope is that DEQ will be able to get a more workable permit, and that more will apply,” he said.

An operator who gets a permit and continues to comply with its requirements has legal protection in the event of an accidental discharge into waters of U.S., Naerebout said.

Permit authority transfers to Idaho July 1. The Idaho Permit Discharge Elimination System is slated to phase in with municipal permits and pre-treatment programs this year, industrial permits next year, general permits including concentrated animal feeding operations in 2020 and stormwater, federal facility and bio-solids permits in 2021.

DEQ standards must be as high as EPA’s.

Idaho DEQ is hoping its program will be more responsive, streamlined and coordinated and easier to understand, Mary Anne Nelson, IPDES program manager, said June 11 during the Idaho Water Users Association water law conference in Sun Valley.

“As we move forward with this program, we are focused on regional compliance assistance,” she said.

EPA will continue to have oversight, but DEQ’s responsibilities will include issuing individual and general permits, compliance monitoring, reporting, inspections and enforcement.

“We do have this enforcement arm, we will enforce it. But we’re more focused on compliance assistance,” she said.

DEQ is close to fully staffing 29 new full-time positions, she said.

The state agency worked closely with stakeholders to develop a program that is protective, responsive and fits Idaho’s needs, DEQ said in a release. Convenient access to permitting officials who can streamline processes by tapping local knowledge and experience are among the expected benefits, the state agency said. DEQ also plans to debut an electronic application.

The Idaho Legislature in 2014 directed the state agency to request that EPA authorize an Idaho-operated permitting program. Idaho DEQ conducted negotiated rule-making. In 2016, the state Legislature approved the rules and DEQ applied to EPA for program approval.

The change means all Northwest states will administer their own Pollutant Discharge Elimination System programs. Idaho’s full program is expected to operate on an annual budget of about $3 million, the state agency said.


U.S. House to take up immigration bills Wed, 13 Jun 2018 11:01:46 -0400 Dan Wheat U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has announced the House will vote next week on immigration and agricultural labor reform.

The announcement averts a procedural move called a discharge petition in which moderate Republicans and Democrats were attempting to bypass Ryan and force votes on four immigration bills, most of which aimed at giving citizenship to recipients of Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA.

DACA refers to people whose parents brought them into the U.S. illegally as children and have received a renewable two-year deferred action from deportation and a work permit.

The discharge petition was reportedly two votes shy of the number needed for passage.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., was among the Republicans being wooed to support the discharge petition, but he announced he will not sign it given the speaker’s commitment to bring compromise bills to the floor.

However, he said he is keeping his options open.

DACA recipients in his district want certainty of protection from deportation. A new compromise within the House Republican Caucus giving that certainty and addressing greater border security is the best way to make that happen, Newhouse said in a June 12 news release.

He said he commends Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for their commitment to him to bring forward a separate immigration bill that addresses agriculture’s labor needs before the August recess.

“Agriculture is a labor-intensive industry and there remains a shortage of domestic labor,” Newhouse said. “Our farmers and ranchers much have access to a legal and reliable workforce in order to provide the world with a safe and abundant supply of food.”

The agricultural labor bill would be a new measure, but House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s, R-Va., HR 4760 would also be voted on, a Newhouse aide said.

Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the National Council for Agricultural Employers, could not be reached for comment.

HR 4760 would bolster immigration enforcement including the use of E-verify (electronic verification of employment eligibility), fix DACA and replace the H-2A guestworker program with a new one called H-2C. It’s supported by the American Farm Bureau Association, the Washington farm labor association known as WAFLA and is opposed by the Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif.

H-2C includes dairy, mushrooms and other sectors excluded from H-2A, but caps the number of workers at 410,000 while requiring illegal residents to return to their country of origin and apply to re-enter the U.S. as H-2C workers.

“Mandatory E-verify without any real fix for the existing workforce and a cap on H-2C would be devastating to agriculture,” Marsh has previously said, adding that NCAE is working to fix that.

Tillamook subsidiary files lawsuit against troubled Oregon dairy Wed, 13 Jun 2018 12:32:06 -0400 Mateusz Perkowski A subsidiary of the Tillamook County Creamery Association has filed a lawsuit seeking to stop accepting milk from a troubled Oregon dairy in bankruptcy proceedings.

Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore., began supplying Columbia River Processing, the subsidary, when the dairy opened last year. It has since run into serious regulatory and financial problems.

The company’s owner, Greg te Velde, owes about $67 million to Rabobank, a major agricultural lender that sought to foreclose on Lost Valley Farm’s cattle herd.

A liquidation auction of the cattle was halted in April by te Velde’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which protects the company from actions by creditors while it’s restructuring.

However, the dairy’s ability to sell milk to Columbia River Processing has been a major point of contention in the bankruptcy proceedings, with the Tillamook cooperative vowing to stop accepting deliveries at the end of May.

Tillamook CEO Patrick Criteser argued that his company has terminated its contract with Lost Valley Farm, but te Velde maintains the contract is valid and threatened to sue.

Columbia River Processing has filed an adversary case — a complaint related to the bankruptcy proceedings — asking a bankruptcy judge to declare that the contract was terminated before the Chapter 11 case was filed.

The company submitted a letter terminating its contract with te Velde in late February, citing the dairy’s failure to pay debts and the appointment of a receiver to oversee its operations.

Reputational damage to the Tillamook cooperative and high bacteria levels in Lost Valley Farm’s milk have also been cited by CRP in ending the milk-buying agreement.

When Columbia River Processing offered to negotiated a reinstatement of the contract, te Velde did not respond, according to the complaint.

If the judge isn’t willing to declare the contract invalid or allow CRP to terminate the agreement, the complaint seeks a judgment that would cause the dairy to its lose bankruptcy protections for any further contract violations.

The issue of CRP’s continued acceptance of milk is key to Lost Valley Farm’s ability to restructure and remain operational.

Rabobank cited the impending end of milk sales to CRP as a reason to lift the dairy’s bankruptcy protections, which would allow the cattle auction to move forward.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Fredrick Clement denied that request during a hearing last month, but may revisit the matter.

“Frankly, I think this issue is going to resolve itself one way or the other,” he said. “If Columbia River refuses to accept milk and the debtor is unable to force them to do so, undoubtedly this issue will ... rise to the top of the matters under consideration and will be addressed again by this court.”

The other major factor affecting Lost Valley Farm is its settlement of a lawsuit with Oregon farm regulators over improper wastewater disposal.

In court documents, te Velde acknowledged he was facing a contempt hearing because ODA claimed the dairy was out of compliance with the deal.

The judge declined to lift the dairy’s bankruptcy protections on these grounds, though he could reconsider if the ODA actually shuts down its operations.

“My guess is the Oregon Department of Agriculture has its remedies without seeking stay relief,” Clement said.