Posted by: bkivey | 9 August 2010

The Owl and The Bureaucrat

In the 30 July issue of the local paper of record guest columnist Cynthia Cheney wrote about the plight of the public library system in Jackson County, located in southern Oregon on the California border. Her main point is that with the end of Federal subsidies in 2006 the county library system has wavered between total shutdown and limited operation and more tax money should be allocated for the libraries.

Most people would consider a public library system one of the vital public services, perhaps not as pressing a need as health and public safety, but certainly on the short list. But county officials found themselves having to make just that choice, funding health and safety services or funding libraries. A reasonable person might ask how it is that a jurisdiction in the richest country on Earth can’t find the $8 million a year that would be required to fund the Jackson County library system. A little history might help.

Like many Western states, large chunks of Oregon are owned by the Federal government. In Jackson County the Feds own about 47% of the land, much of it in national forests. The largest part of this land came under Federal control in 1916 when Congress appropriated over 2 million acres of land from the Oregon & California railroad. This meant that the land was removed from county tax rolls and was essentially closed to development. In exchange for the land the Federal government agreed to share logging revenue with the county and state, an arrangement that worked well until 1994 when President Clinton signed the Northwest Forest Plan into law in response to environmental concerns over the declining Northern Spotted Owl population. The Plan greatly curtailed logging on Federal lands, an industry that made up a large part of the Jackson County economy and tax revenue. In 2000 Congress agreed to pay subsidies to affected counties for six years while the counties explored ways to replace the lost revenue.

During that time no one bothered to come up with a solution and it appears that everyone was waiting for someone else to do the work so when the subsidies stopped in December 2006, there was no plan and no revenue, and the Jackson County libraries closed. There followed much wailing and gnashing of teeth so that the Oregon Congressional delegation managed to wrangle a series of one-year extensions for the subsidies. As things stand now there is increasing reluctance in Congress to continue propping up a county that has had fifteen years to get it’s act together and resentment in the county over a Federal government that controls nearly half the county land and refuses to let residents harvest the resources.

And what of the owl that precipitated this situation? Since the virtual end of logging on Federal lands the owl population has declined an average of 3.7% per year, a decline that has gone relatively unremarked upon by environmental groups. Probably, I think, because they can’t blame people for the decline. So the owl population is declining even after an economy was destroyed to save it. I haven’t seen any environmental groups stepping up to alleviate the woes they caused.

Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north in British Columbia are making use of their resources and harvesting forests. One can stand by the railroad tracks in Oregon and Washington and see trainloads of Canadian forest products being shipped into the heart of American timber country. The environmentalists are unhappy because the Spotted Owl is now virtually extinct in British Columbia, but it hasn’t been the ecological disaster predicted by the enviros. Not so great for the owls, perhaps, but the forests don’t seem to be much affected.

It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for the residents of Jackson County. Rather than pressure Congress to reopen Federal lands for production they were perfectly happy to accept other people’s money while they did little to help themselves. In 2007 a ballot measure to increase property taxes to support the library system failed; so it appears that while the residents might desire a library system, they want someone else to pay for it. Perhaps they can explain to a convenience store clerk in Pierre, SD, why they should pay for library services in a rural Oregon county.

The last sentence in Ms. Cheney’s column is “Libraries need stable and adequate tax support.” This is true, but if the residents who use the services are unwilling to provide that support themselves, why does she think others should be so obligated?

Congratulations to the Timber’s U-23 team

On Saturday the Portland Timbers U-23 team won the Premier Development League title after beating the 2008 champion Thunder Bay Chill, becoming the first team in league history to finish with a undefeated season. It was a very physical game, which led to the Chill having a man ejected on a straight red card in the 17th minute.

As usual the Timbers Army contributed greatly to the home field advantage, an advantage that both the U-23’s and the first team have enjoyed in the league. That will change next year when the Timbers start playing MLS, as MLS crowds are much more enthusiastic than the typical USL crowd, Still, it’s hard to beat the passion of the Army, and no other team mascot runs around with a live chainsaw.

Oops!

In the 6 August Sports section of the local paper Oregon cycling god Chris Horner is interviewed and in the article he maintains that “The sport is going in a postive direction.” regarding doping control. Hmmm. Maybe not the best choice of words on the subject.

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