Wolfe: Joseph Branch Trail is a land use issue

To the Editor:

Jacob Losby and Natalie Millar (spokespeople for the Joseph Branch Trail Consortium) recently made statements referring to the Trail project in Wallowa County as being “political.” Mr. Losby claims this in his letter to The Observer (Aug. 14). Ms. Millar also makes this claim in her interview with the Wallowa County Chieftain, referenced in their July 31 article. The JBTC trail project is NOT a political issue. No one other than JBTC members consider it to be political, but I can see why they wish to make it so.

The proposed trail is a land use issue. In Wallowa County the property they wish to build the trail on is zoned “exclusive farm use” over the majority of it. The farmers and ranchers submitted extensive evidence of financial harm and disturbance of farm practices this trail would cause to their operations. Homeowners also submitted objections. EFU laws are clear about what is required for a conditional use permit in EFU zoned areas. JBTC did not meet, or even try to meet, the standards affirmed by the recent Oregon Supreme Court decision. 

Mr. Losby and Ms. Millar state they are now going to hire a “project manager” to force this project on the adjacent farms and ranches in Wallowa County. They spent two years using grant money and a free attorney writing an application for the CUP, during which time they did not talk to landowners, whose objections they already knew. Now they say they want to “build a relationship” with those same farmers they ignored. 

Both JBTC spokespeople gave different explanations for the withdrawal of their appeal. They ignore the fact that both sides of the issue had time to file new evidence supporting their position on the Appeal (at JBTC’s request) but that only the opposition took the time to do so.

This special interest group seems to have unlimited resources for grants and free attorneys to continue to harass the farmers of Wallowa County. We just want to be left alone to try to make a living and preserve farmland in Oregon, which is the true reason for EFU zones. Not recreation. 

Rebecca Wolfe 

Wallowa

Mildrexler: There is a science-based, socially peaceful compromise for Lostine River Corridor

 

To the Editor:

Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands, sponsor of Wallowology Discovery Center, has watched the Lostine River Fuels Reduction project unfold over several years. The conflation of values, science, politics and strong emotions has left little room for productive dialogue. Nonetheless, everyone agrees they love the Lostine River and Eagle Cap Wilderness. The Lostine provides us with an abundance of cold clean water, rich fish and wildlife habitat, a riverine paradise, and access to our state’s largest wilderness area. 

It would be beneficial to find a solution to this problem and avoid actions that would cause lasting divisions in our community, or a lost sense of place for the Lostine River Corridor. For whatever reason, relatively low interest in the project resulted in at least one bid that was eventually withdrawn. While a slightly modified version of the sale has already been advertised, there is still time for a different course of action.

In the spirit of solving this problem in everyone’s favor, we’d like to proffer a compromise: Move forward with an 8-inch diameter limit and remove the smaller, most flammable trees where appropriate. This will save the mature and older trees with their thick fire-resistant bark and large carbon stores. It will also protect valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat and reduce impacts on the sensitive forest understory. This way we can move forward, reducing fire risk where it matters most (eliminating small trees and flashy fuels) while retaining the large, older structures in this cool, moist, riparian forest. Fire crews do excellent work removing small-diameter trees and have a budget for this kind of work.

This simple approach could reduce fire risk, provide employment opportunities, and largely maintain the character of the Lostine River Corridor we all cherish. It might also help soothe the wounds and scars many people on both sides of this issue have experienced, and provide opportunities for everyone to move forward together in a more unified manner.

David Mildrexler

Systems Ecologist

Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands

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