geoff horning oregon aglinkHere’s the good news. By the time you read this column it will only be a couple more weeks before all the political vitriol will come to an end for another cycle. While I’m sure we’re going to elect the perfect President in November (sarcasm people), I’m far more concerned about some of the political posturing happening right here in Oregon.

Oregon has long been a bastion of activist activity. Some of it has been good for the environment and the economy, but much of it has been an over reach by an urban community out of touch with their rural neighbors.

Having grown up in Reedsport, I was surrounded by a proud community with a strong local economy thanks to International Paper and a robust forestry industry. Almost overnight I witnessed fear and anger as eco-terrorists entered the community, spiking trees and heralding the plight of an owl that nobody had even heard of. Some 30-odd-years later the Spotted Owl still hasn’t recovered, the Barred Owl thrives and a once proud community sits in economic shambles.

Many of those activists who strolled into town to demonstrate were from Portland, Eugene, Seattle and other urban destinations. Thankfully it was before the internet, or I could only imagine how many more would have come into town without a lick of forestry experience and told all the locals who spent generations caring for the forest everything they were doing wrong.

Reedsport is hardly the only rural community in Oregon that has been uprooted by larger urban populations who think they know better than the locals. It’s just one example that happens to hit close to home. While most in Oregon are currently debating the damage that will occur with the passing of Measure 97, my past history has me keeping a close eye on the furthest corner of the State and a push by activists to turn a large section of Malheur County into a Designated Monument.

Look, I’m okay with conservation. I believe it’s not just a good thing to do, but it’s our obligation to ensure a balanced ecosystem for future generations. I love to fly fish for trout and spend a lot of my “pleasure” time doing so. In fact, just a couple weeks ago I spent a week in the backwoods of Yellowstone, dancing around grizzly bear to fish one of the best trout fisheries in the world, the Lamar River. I LOVE National Parks.

Yet, I’m mortified that a legion of activists, mostly from other parts of the country thanks to KEEN Footwear, are making headway in turning the Owyhee Canyonlands into a Designated Monument. If successful this effort would significantly impact local ranchers from grazing their cattle. Why are they pushing for this designation you ask? The primary reason noted by the activist community is “it’s important to have areas like this for people to explore and love.”

Here’s the thing. They already can! Not only is this area designated as public lands that people can enjoy, there are also 5 National Parks or Monuments that already reside in Oregon, totaling 207,360 acres. There are more than 85,000 acres within 153 State Parks in Oregon. That doesn’t include the public lands along the Oregon coast, or the National Forests that reside throughout Oregon. That’s a lot of area for people to “explore and love.”

This designation will basically accomplish one thing, which is to restrict the cattle industry from thriving in a region that is already struggling to economically survive. Such a designation would devastate an entire area with no benefit to the greater society. It’s like watching my childhood manifest itself all over again. This time, though, I hope common sense prevails.

Denim & Diamonds is next month. The highlight of the event for me is the awards ceremony, but the purpose of the event is to raise money for our Cultivating Common Ground campaign. Engagement and education of our urban neighbors is our only option. We still have plenty of room, and we’d love to have your support. Every penny helps. Otherwise, we’ll soon live in the State of Portland, while everybody just visits the Oregon National Park.

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Geoff Horning, Executive Director