November 18, 2002 11:00 pm

By Rachel Odell

For The Observer

BEND — Members of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association praised state agriculture officials recently for taking steps to supercede the federal Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement of Clean Water Act provisions.

Speaking at a hearing at Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond, cattlemen said a new permitting process that would regulate ranches, animal farms and other animal operations should fall under state regulation. Federal officials are more likely to dole out stiff fines to operators when waste runoff pollutes streams or rivers, the cattlemen said.

Officials with the Oregon Department of Agriculture are more concerned with educating and helping farmers and ranchers than federal officials, according to the handful of ranchers who testified.

The hearing addressed a complex permitting process that affects confined animal feeding operations. A CAFO is a large-scale animal-raising operation that includes dairy farms, hog and chicken ranches, livestock production and more.

Oregon officials are developing the new permit, which will be administered through the Department of Agriculture, and are accepting public comment on the process.

In 1991, the Oregon Legislature directed the Oregon Department of Agriculture to control and prevent water pollution from livestock and other animal operations in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

The permit outlines how operators must treat waste and also explains that operators must prevent animal waste from flowing into streams and drainage ditches.

Rancher Bob Hawthorne asked that the permit require the government to alert ranchers of pending visits several days before they happen. He said ranchers have a long tradition of hospitality, but the prospect of having government officials showing up on his property for surprise visits to look for illegal pollution could change things.

"I don't like unannounced visits," he said. "Those are further attempts by the government that threaten the relationship with (ranchers). It is not unreasonable to be given a minimum of a 48-hour notice."

Still, Hawthorne said he supported efforts to ensure the state's water bodies remain clean.

Bob Skinner, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association and a Jordan Valley rancher, urged state officials to use this public process in which they develop the permit to promote a better relationship with ranchers.

"Federal agencies have crossed the line," he said. "They want to inflict pain and fear on producers. There is a total lack of trust and (there is) economic hardship. We must overcome the barrier and build trust."

Go on the Web to for more information on the CAFO permit.