News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Guest Opinion: Unilateral Priorities – A broken-record of failure

Jami Cate

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed plans to lethally remove 470,000 barred owls in our West Coast forests to try and help the spotted owl species survive. If the spotted owl sounds familiar, it’s probably because this problem was already supposed to have been solved—back in the 1980s.

The spotted owl was the catalyst of environmental activists crippling our logging industry. They leveraged the plight of the spotted owl to result in drastic reductions of our ability to log and proactively manage our forests – all in the name of preserving owl habitat, and thus saving the species. Or so we were led to believe.

But decades later, those devastating measures which have decimated the economies of logging and mill towns throughout the Pacific Northwest, and lead to our current reality of mega-fires scorching our landscape and threatening our communities every summer, has in fact done nothing to “save” the spotted owl. Hence the latest drastic measure being proposed by USFWS.

This trend of drastic measures, guided solely by a unilateral prioritization of one species at the complete dismissal of any other consequences, is one we see far too often as our court system continues to side with extreme activists and fails to adequately consider a comprehensive balance of priorities for our communities. The recent deep drawdowns of Green Peter Dam and Lookout Point Dam are no exception.

Chinook Salmon were leveraged under the Endangered Species Act to result in an injunction forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct drawdowns throughout the Willamette River Basin dams. Despite the USACE’s grave concerns about the devastating impacts to human health and safety, to communities’ economies and clean water supply, and even the survival of numerous other species, the State of Oregon joined those plaintiffs and offered staunch support of the remedies demanded by activists.

As a result, our rivers have turned to mud, thousands of Kokanee are dead, the survival of other fish and aquatic species living in our rivers remain threatened, and communities downstream from our dams are enduring tens of millions in unexpected costs to try and maintain their water supplies. And the long-term damages of flushing decades of sediment down our waterways and drastically decreasing our stored water to bolster summer flows, are yet to be seen.

Yet Governor Kotek is trying to blame this mess on the failure of the USACE to predict such problems, while ignoring her own agencies’ critical role in dismissing such concerns and helping making the mess in the first place. The State vowed that these drawdowns would actually result in cleaner water, and promised that “the potential for conflicts have been considered and addressed.” But no mitigation plan for the numerous negative consequences cautioned by the USACE was ever included in the orders.

It is easy to wonder what all these devastatingly high costs will benefit us. And if this latest drawdown strategy turns out to be anything like the over $9 billion in restoration efforts invested in the Columbia River Basin, the answer is likely to be: nothing.

According to a recent study by Oregon State University, though fish populations have increased thanks to fish collection and hatchery efforts, the billions spent on increasing wild Chinook salmon have had no measurable effect. Kind of like the non-existent benefits to the spotted owl populations by crippling our timber industry.

These extreme measures always demand an equally extreme price from our communities, but their promises of immense benefits to a single species never seem to materialize. We need to stop living in the land of good intentions, and start realizing that this broken record of unilateral prioritization of any single species will always result in failure. Oregonians deserve balanced solutions that consider all the priorities necessary for our communities to thrive. The only way to achieve that is take these decisions out of the hands of a select few far-removed individuals, and finally allow our communities to have a seat at the decision-making table.

Rep. Jami Cate (R-Lebanon)
Oregon House District 11

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