NY Times: “Fear of the Federal Government in the Ranchlands of Oregon”

Subtitle to this Jan. 18 New York Times article: “Two years after the standoff at the Malheur Refuge, many people in the region remain convinced that their way of life is being trampled.”

“In 1955, Joe’s dad took a job at the Edward Hines sawmill, which purchased a 67,400-acre tract of timber in the Malheur National Forest. Burns was a vibrant timber town until around 1973 when the mill started laying off workers, and the unemployment rate in Harney County reached 30 percent. The mill closed after the Forest Service restricted the cutting of old-growth forest in the mid-1990s. For-sale signs went up and people moved away. Cronin graduated from high school in 1968 with about 120 people in his class, and his grandson’s class will graduate with about half that many. The biggest employers in the region are now the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies.”

The USFS is still the biggest employer in my area, just west of the Cascades, but there is ambivalence, if anything, over its place here. Or ignorance. The USFS owns half the county, and recreation on those lands is a big part of the local economy, but the agency is a quiet presence.

13 thoughts on “NY Times: “Fear of the Federal Government in the Ranchlands of Oregon””

  1. Yes, OG logging has been restricted and that was part of the change.
    But ask the mill owners and shareholders where the jobs went. Automation in the mill and in the forest have drastically reduced the number of jobs per MMBF of output.
    Feller bunchers have eliminated sawyers; automation in the mill has cost other jobs. Labor is a large cost that owners are eager to reduce in the drive for profitability.
    I’ve been in the woods for almost 50 years; the only job that hasn’t changed YET? For now, there is still a driver in the cab of each log truck. Self-driving trucks, anyone?

    • Oldwoodsman, it’s true that automation and new machines in the woods have reduced the number of people required to make a 2×4, but automation did not cause so many Eastern Oregon mills to close. I big part of it was a shortage of logs. Ten or 15 years ago or so, a mill in Prineville tried importing radiata logs from New Zealand — it was odd to see logs (painted green with pesticides) from the other end of the world on Oregon logs trucks. Especially when we had better logs so close by.

  2. ““They say the cows are killing the fish,” Cronin said. “I think it’s a vehicle to remove cattle off national forest. I can’t see anything wrong with that river. I think the government science is slanted.” Cronin asked a riparian ecologist who had been at the University of Montana to run an independent analysis of Little Crane Creek, where his livestock grazed. “He said that it was one of the healthiest riparian areas he’s ever studied,” Cronin said. “Excellent shape.” The ecologist sent a copy to Cronin and another to the Forest Service office in John Day. “Never heard anything about it,” Cronin said. “But if I’m hurting that stream, I want to know about it. I just don’t understand it. They are saying the numbers are down. I think there ought to be an independent study. We just get the feeling that the science is out of touch all together.””

    I think all science related to regulation should be put into some kind of open internet location in which the studies can be reviewed and discussed.

  3. The argument that automation is a factor in the killing of the towns only holds true if you ignore the why (economics). Which a favorite economist of some on here (Ernie) fails to factor into his talks, when he jumps from mbf to % and back to mbf as it suits the agenda.
    Companies build factories/sawmills to achieve an acceptable net profit margin generally around 15-30% depending on industry.
    In the 50’s, 60’s and even into the 70’s, sawmills were built to be able to run large logs and cut for grade. The mills were labor intensive because A) labor was cheap B) the technology wasn’t there to replace the skill needed for many of the jobs. AND When the Spotted Owl was listed 2M Doug Fir was worth $600/mbf westside scale, with the average log being 20″x16′ (280bf) going thru the mill. You could earn $7/hr working in a mill, $7.5 setting chokers and a yarder side got around $2000/day. Fast forward almost 3 decades. The majority of logs are small diameter with the average in many mills being 11″x 16′ (70bf). Until a few months ago the price for 2M Doug Fir was $775. You now can start in a mill at $18/hr and be at $20/hr after your 90 days are up, $17 setting chokers and a yarder side is around $5500/day. The mills had to modernize, reduce labor and increase speed to run more pieces with much lower cost, just to survive. That doesn’t even factor in that the overall volume of available logs decreased, which killed off some of the mills that initially invested millions to stay competitive. We can look at pine prices on the east side and the picture is even more dismal. In the late 80’s sugar pine could fetch $1200/mbf and ponderosa $1000/mbf, currently the export price of pine is $650/mbf westside, domestic is $375-450/mbf eastside, with the production costs similar to above. We won’t even get into the antiquated appraisal system, that is out of touch with real world cost, used by the USFS and BLM.
    As for the science, there is often a perception of what is natural and how to get back to this “natural state”, often ignoring the fact that there have been intrusions and impacts by livestock and European settlers for 150+ years and native Americans for centuries before that. Many of the environmental regulations are based on these natural states and perceived ideas of what things “should be”. But just as not all timber jobs lost were because of the spotted owl, not all environmental regulations are based on true science.

    • The science basis for a “natural state” (NRV/natural range of variability, through an ecosystem-based or “coarse filter” approach), used to meet the NFMA requirement to manage for “diversity of plant and animal communities,” is described in the Preamble to the 2012 Planning Rule:

      “The premise behind the coarse-filter approach is that native species evolved and adapted within the limits established by natural landforms, vegetation, and disturbance patterns prior to extensive human alteration. Maintaining or restoring ecological conditions similar to those under which native species have evolved therefore offers the best assurance against losses of biological diversity and maintains
      habitats for the vast majority of species in an area, subject to factors outside of the Agency’s control, such as climate change.”

  4. Here’s some backstory on the Hammond public lands ranchers, referenced in the NY Times piece. Looks like the Hammond ranchers are doing plenty of trampling of their own.

    The Hammond clan has allegedly made repeated death threats against government employees. The Hammonds were charged with arson to cover up their alleged, repeated poaching of wildlife on our pubilc lands and the Hammonds were charged with felony interference.


    The Hammonds are anything but “responsible ranchers” or victims of government “overreach.” They are criminals who have repeatedly violated the law and have frequently avoided paying the penalties.

    For instance, the Hammonds set a fire that burned public land in 1999, but no charges were brought against them. Then in 2001 they set another fire to hide the fact that they had poached at least seven deer out of season with other deer wounded and limping away according to witnesses. A hunting guide who witnessed the event was forced to leave his camp and flee for his life to avoid the flames. The fire burned 139 acres of public property and destroyed evidence of their poaching.

    After they set the fire, it is alleged they threatened bodily harm to a teenage relative and told him to keep his mouth shut about the fire.

    Then in 2006 the Hammonds set yet another arson fire was set that nearly overcame a BLM fire crew that was attempting to quell another blaze.

    The arson charges were not the Hammonds’ first brush with the law. The Hammonds were arrested in 1994 and charged with felony for interfering with federal officials. The charge had a three year maximum sentence, but they only spent two nights in jail—after then Congressman Bob Smith intervened on their behalf.

    After numerous violations of his grazing terms on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Dwight Hammond had his grazing permit revoked. In retaliation, Hammond purposely disabled a bulldozer along the route of a fence line that was being constructed to keep their cows from trespassing on OUR public property. When the fence crew showed up, and called for a tow truck to remove the Hammond’s bulldozer, Dwight Hammond leaped to the levers and suddenly lowered the blade nearly killing one of the federal employees. Hammond was not even arrested or charged for this event.

    After this incident, the refuge manager and others began to receive death threats over the phone. The refuge manager’s wife had to leave the area for fear of her life.

    However, this was nothing new. In 1986, 1988, and 1991, Hammond made repeated death threats against refuge managers, plus frequently engaged in verbal abuses towards other federal workers.

  5. This article makes it sound as if all of rural Oregon feels the same way as those interviewed, which is nonsense. Many rural westerners support conservation and appropriate federal management of our public lands.

    • True, but I’d bet that most eastern Oregonians have much a different view of what “appropriate federal management of our public lands” is than “I5 Corridor” Oregonians. Anyhow, yes, there are a diversity of opinions on this throughout the state.

    • I personally know many Rural Oregonians that disagree with the Hammonds, but definitely disagree with the Federal Agencies approach just as much. It is also not an Eastern Oregon issue, it would be safe to say that outside of the Willamette Valley there is a majority opinion that the Federal Agencies are not doing an acceptable level of active management.


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