IT ALL COMES BACK TO THE LAND FOR JOSEPH MAYOR PEGGY KITE-MARTIN
JOSEPH Adapting an old and cherished way of life to modern times is no easy task. But the mayor of Joseph believes it can and must be done.
It's a task, a goal, a passion and a plan that Peggy Kite-Martin, elected to a first term as Joseph's mayor last November, lives and breathes.
She packs the details of it around in a briefcase. She's got maps and graphs, facts and figures to whip out and display on the spot.
She talks about it to anyone who will listen. She peppers the talk with phrases like "restoration economy" and "fuels reduction."
The passion comes pouring out of her in a voice that's chock-full of energy, confidence, conviction. It sounds like this:
"I don't think we need to bring jobs here. I think the jobs are already here. We need to connect the dots and get people back on the land. It all comes back to the land."
A Wallowa Countian since the age of 4, the 46-year old Kite-Martin grew up on the land herself. Today she claims a deep connection with and abiding affection for its people.
The daughter of cowboy, packer and guide John Anderson, and Vassar graduate Christine Anderson, Kite-Martin enjoyed a happy childhood in the forest and farm country outside Joseph.
She attended local schools, graduating from Joseph High in 1976. After that, she went to work for the U.S. Forest Service.
She also began forming the political opinions that have lately emerged.
She lived for a time at a camp at Billy Meadows, in Wallowa County's isolated Chesnimus region. She built fences and water troughs and planted trees.
And she listened to people talk about the forests and problems with forest health, about jobs, about the need for conservation.
"Through my work with the Forest Service I started getting a lot of different views," she says.
In the fall of 1976, she moved to
La Grande and enrolled at Eastern Oregon State College. The time for serious study, however, hadn't arrived.
"College wasn't really what I wanted to be doing then. I wanted to be out working and making money," she recalls.
Back in Joseph, she went to work at the Gold Room, a locally famous Joseph bar and restaurant owned by Erma Tippett.
She also worked seasonally as a tree planter. She went through phases and changes. She owns up to being a former hippie.
When she was 21, she married Marty Kite. They had two children, Erica and Joslyn, before Marty died in a traffic accident July 4, 1989.
By the time of the accident, Kite-Martin had been enrolled at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany for a year. She was working toward a degree in horticulture and landscaping.
"Marty died in the wreck the summer before I graduated. That was my darkest and scariest time. It was when I learned how to pray for courage, wisdom and strength," she says.
What she found, in the end, was a love for things academic.
In 1990, she was back in La Grande, taking course work at Eastern. Her goal was a liberal arts degree, with emphasis in regional land planning.
"Those studies brought me right back to my roots. They made me think, What are we going to do with the land?' " she says.
During this period, she married Dan Martin, a Wallowa County logger and longtime friend. Later, they had a son, Trent.
After she earned her second degree, she got a job in the Wallowa County office of the Oregon Employment Department. At the time, the local timber industry was taking it on the chin.
Timber sales on national forest land were in decline. The environmental movement was gaining momentum. Loggers and millworkers alike were lining up in droves for unemployment benefits and job-training programs.
"Those were really, really tough times. I was living it at home, at work, and with friends," she says.
Dan Martin went off to what Kite-Martin laughingly calls "logger college." He would learn heating and air conditioning in a dislocated worker job-training program.
He graduated and for a time worked at his new trade in Wallowa County. Today, however, he is employed by the Wallowa-Union Railroad.
Kite-Martin, meanwhile, continued work with the Employment Department, at the same time mounting her own study on local workforce and land-use issues.
She watched and waited for a chance to put her knowledge to the test. That chance came with last year's mayoral election.
She jumped at it, but not without some trepidation.
"There was a need for someone to step into a leadership role as mayor. But I will say it was kind of scary to run. I had never even been on the council," she says.
Campaigning against Timothy Nitz and Dennis Sands, Kite-Martin didn't confine herself to city issues. She talked often and at length about local, state and national policies affecting surrounding lands.
A central theme was the need to reduce fuels on nearby Mount Howard, and the job opportunities such a project would provide.
"It was a good platform. I could justify it because the city of Joseph evolved from the land around it," she says. "And besides, Mount Howard is a part of our watershed."
Since taking office at the beginning of the year, Kite-Martin has continued to pursue the goal of a Mount Howard fuels reduction project.
She works steadily to gain converts. She talks the project up wherever she goes.
Earlier this month, the Joseph City Council adopted a resolution advocating a restoration economy that "uses local workforce and contractors to perform needed fuel reduction activities," especially on Mount Howard.
The resolution states the city will encourage a working relationship between citizens, workers, public agencies and the forest products industry.
Kite-Martin likes to think a spirit of cooperation will emerge. She believes environmental concerns over work on the mountain can be successfully addressed.
"We need to do a clear, simple restoration project," she says. "We need to redefine the argument and issues. We need to talk fuels reduction and restoration, not logging and cutting."
Most people including Joseph's mayor agree that the days of untrammeled, unrestricted cutting of old-growth timber are done.
But Kite-Martin sees no reason for the county's resource-based lifestyle to entirely die.
She believes there is still work to be done in the woods, and at family wages, too.
"The land is our wealth. I really think we have to be the kind of people who see the glass as more than half full," she says.
She also believes a restoration economy that includes fuels reduction will benefit younger and older workers alike, and save something of the old way of life in Wallowa County.
"We need to get the experienced people out on the land with young people who want to learn," she says. "If not, we stand to lose a whole generation of logging skills and knowledge and