A recent article in the Capital Press brought to light certain actions taken by the government and our elected officials that may not be in the best interest of our environment. The article was about the recent introduction of legislation by our two U.S. senators, which would designate 1.2 million acres in Malheur County as wilderness. The reasons given are the usual ones.

However, the citizens of Malheur County voted overwhelmingly against the re-designation of this huge land mass. Particularly concerning is the bill’s reference to saving native grasses. This is as far from the truth as it gets.

Earlier this spring, after not being allowed to graze on the Murderers Creek Wildlife Area for five years, I rode down through it and was amazed at what I saw.

The environment that once supported the biggest deer herd in Oregon is gone, along with every other species that thrived in this ecosystem.

In 1972, when the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife purchased this land, it was promised that they would improve our winter habitat for the deer. It is a complete and utter failure. The Murderers Creek Wildlife Area is no longer environmentally viable for anything in the ecosystem due to the complete destruction of our uplands. The culprits behind the environmental disaster are an exotic invasive species named ventenata and another invasive, medusa head rye. Both ventenata and medusa are silica based, which means nothing can eat it.

Ventenata originated in North Africa and has no natural enemies here in the U.S. It affects every animal in the food chain, including fish. Birds cannot even eat the seeds.

The minute the citizens of Grant County figured out the seriousness of this environmental situation, the experts from Oregon State University were invited for an on-the-ground inspection in the Murderers Creek Basin. This was the best move anyone could have thought of. This team was extremely professional and willing to tackle the daunting task of trying to get this invasive species under control before it consumes all the perennial grasses.

Startup funding was applied for through the Bureau of Land Management. The scientists needed a couple of two-acre plots to start their research. A tentative date to start the project was set for June 2020.

Three weeks prior to approval, a shocking turn of events occurred. The Izee Watershed Council, who had taken over the project, was informed that BLM was not going to fund the startup project and, worse, it was not going to allow the scientists from OSU to access the land for study. This is just a vengeful act from an agency that is supposedly managing our natural resources. The government’s management of these lands has led to the environmental catastrophe and it cannot be blamed on resource industries. In 2014 and 2015 about 220,000 acres burned in Grant County. When this happens the ventenata propagates with a vengeance. It takes over every bare spot the fire leaves, eventually taking over the entire plant communities, even in the unburned areas with marginal soils.

The government’s use of fire as a management tool has literally backfired. That is why the BLM will not allow access. If it is not studied, the problem does not exist and they do not have to deal with it.

The legal term for this inaction is plausible deniability. It has become a very prevalent tool used against the citizens of the U.S. when dealing with environmental issues.

One great example of how this works occurred, coincidentally, in the John Day River system. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries were collecting baseline data on the migratory fish in the Mid-Columbia Basin. It was discovered NOAA had changed the protocols for the data collection and ODFW could no longer include any pertinent data associated with government projects.

By excluding relevant data and not accepting any third-party data, they covered up what is truly needed. The project was ultimately canceled, but the damage had been done and the tainted data is now in the system. The Bonneville Power Administration spent ratepayers’ money proving a false narrative and all we have to show for it is degraded habitat and less fish and wildlife. The final analysis shows the federal and state governments’ mitigation efforts are actually having a negative impact on our wildlife and environment. Plausible deniability.

What the article on wilderness designation left out is what happens when the environmental safeguards are taken away in this designation. They can no longer address an environmental-altering disaster, such as the ventenata invasion.

This is where plausible deniability rears its ugly head. Make no mistake: the seed source for this invasive is there and the alleged reasons for this designation are no longer valid. Sage-grouse gone, birds of prey gone, wildlife gone, all perennial grasses gone, and if you have any doubt what is going to happen, take a tour of the John Day River System, with special stops at the Schneider Wildlife area, Aldridge Mountain, Black Canyon Wilderness and the adjacent 100,000 acres, Strawberry Wilderness area and its tributaries and as far North as the Middle Fork and North Fork of the John Day River.

Loren Stout ranches near John Day, Ore.

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