STAY VIGILANT IN PROTECTING FARM LAND

May 06, 2002 12:00 am

The state Land Conservation and Development Commission created in 1973 has been a lightning rod for lots of upset folks. But Oregon's pioneering land-use laws, which were created to fight sprawl and preserve farm and forest land, have done a lot of good and were the environmentally responsible thing to do.

That message hits home when you look at the tribulations of other states. Texas and California are two that come to mind. Fresno County in California had been the nation's No. 1 farming county since 1954, but this year lost out to a neighboring county. The main reason is cities sprawling in wild abandon. It's a Catch-22: Urban sprawl eats up land that could be used for farming, while at the same time the population grows, demanding more food.

Meanwhile in Texas, a driver might be steering his way through suburbia, passing subdivisions with names like Heather Ridge Estates and Waterford Falls sandwiching the Newman ranch. This particular happening is in the state's fastest growing city, the once agricultural Frisco, which has blossomed from 6,000 to 50,000 people in the past decade, showing a voracious appetite for high-quality farmland. In the five-year period ending in 1997, Texas dropped an alarming 1,400 square miles of agriculture and wild lands.

Losing farmland and farm families to development is happening all over the nation. The nation loses 1.2 million acres of farmland a year. Once that land is paved over, it is essentially lost to agriculture forever.

The problem also continues worldwide. In the 20th century, the world's population doubled twice. Farm acreage, meanwhile, continues to shrink and half of tropical forests were destroyed in the last 100 years (to 2000).

The new U.S. farm bill, if passed, may hold the answer. The bill sets aside $1 billion for farmland protection programs, up from $35 million in the old farm bill. Farmers need proper encouragement to keep their land in farming with a fair profit for their labors.

DRIVE, RIDE SAFELY

Oregon takes driving safety seriously. The Oregon Department of Transportation is emphasizing traffic safety in May by encouraging such things as seat belt use, speed control and reduced impaired driving. Some efforts include Sober Grad Night activities, and encouraging people to drive safely in highway work zones and be safe as pedestrians and motorcycle riders. ODOT also encourages properly installed child safety seats, and getting kids to wear their bicycle helmets and follow the rules of the road.

The work involves not only ODOT but law enforcement officials and emergency responders who work together for traffic safety. On average during the past several years, 2,155 people have been injured and 37 have been killed during May. Drivers can do their part by reversing the decline in civility and road rage. The right to drive, bicycle or whatever means the responsibility to be safe for yourself and everyone else on the road.