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Wallowa fifth-grader Zeb Ramsden asks Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, a question at a town hall meeting Friday. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
WALLOWA — Four students from Jennifer Gibbs’ fifth-grade class got a rare opportunity to meet with a U.S. senator Friday afternoon at the Wallowa School.
Freddy DeVore asked Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, what he was doing for agriculture.
Merkley said the Farm Bill, crucial to providing extended relief for ranchers who lost private and public rangeland during the fires in the summer of 2012, passed the Senate twice, but the House has not passed it.
“The Farm Bill is a big thing that hasn’t happened and needs to happen,” Merkley said.
Merkley said the Farm Bill includes investments for agriculture research, besides maintaining the emergency programs.
The four representatives from Gibbs’ class — Ariella Aragon, Ella Moeller, Zeb Ramsden and DeVore — asked questions compiled by their class to ask the senator.
Merkley said he was pleased with the students’ participation.
“This is my 178th town hall and I’ve learned a lot,” Merkley said. “You guys get gold stars and are citizens in the making.”
The fifth-grade class had similar concerns as the adults who attended Friday’s town hall. June Colony has a vegetable farm and store in Lostine, and said she is worried about the right to privacy, knowing that the National Security Agency has been looking into the personal phone and email accounts of thousands of Americans.
Colony said she was particularly concerned about installing a credit card processing system.
“To use credit cards I’m trapped by the NSA infringement on the Fourth Amendment,” she said. “It’s a weird problem. How do you intend to create change so I can make a business decision?”
Merkley said foreign intelligence has oversight of domestic communication under the Patriot Act allowing the government to collect information.
“With a statement of facts relevant to authorized investigations,” Merkley said. “The court took each standard and made them irrelevant.”
Several in attendance expressed interest in increasing management on the national forests and frustration that so much of the U.S. Forest Service budget is used for firefighting and not for fuels reduction and timber harvest.
“We have to get forest firefighting out of the same box and put it in emergency funding,” Merkley said. “How do we move forest management to the front end? Fire suppression is not a management tool, it’s a reaction.”