Editor's opinion

So you want to own a ranch with timber and cattle in Eastern Oregon? Never mind the unpredictable and often awful prices for your products (a sick irony, considering how critical these products are to the average American). Never mind the cruel and capricious weather. Consider the headaches you endure just because American voters listen to the wrong voices and vote with their hearts, not their heads.

Roy Peterson of Monument can testify to the challenges of modern-day logging and ranching. This month, he is removing 1 million board feet of timber, including about half of his fir crop, on 500 acres of his family's 1,500-acre ranch. Why? To head off a devastating bug kill. Why did the tussock moth land on his property? Ask the neighboring Umatilla National Forest, where failure to control the bug allowed its spread onto private land.

The Forest Service tried to cope with its severe tussock moth problem, but ultimately the forest staff could only watch as the infestation slopped over onto Peterson's property. An environmental impact statement is in the works, but it's too late to do Peterson any good. He's responding by doing what the Forest Service cannot, which is offset the loss of his timber by logging before the trees lose their value.

Meanwhile, dense stands of timber, untouched on federal land, still pose a significant fire threat.

"There's a tremendous fuel load on the ground," Peterson notes.

Peterson, a professional logger and fire chief for the City of Monument, emphasized that his complaint is directed not at local Forest Service staff but at the U.S. Congress, where the laws are written that tie the hands of federal land managers.

"You get people voting that don't have a clue about trees or timberland," Peterson notes.

Then, there's the cougar problem. Once upon a time, rural families could enjoy their lands with a reasonable assurance of security. Practical common sense told the public that dogs were a useful tool to keep cougars at bay. This strategy worked. Cougars kept their distance.

No longer. Peterson said he arms his teen-age children and logging crews with rifles before they are allowed to venture out on the property. He does so for good reason. Cougar sightings have become commonplace in this populated area, located only a few miles north of Monument. At last count, Peterson alone has seen three of the usually elusive cats so far this year.

So why not round up the dogs and conduct a periodic hunt to discourage cougars from wandering into town? Voters in Oregon, swayed by emotional appeals of animal-rights groups, banned the use of dogs to hunt cougars. Peterson recalls standing in line at the Washington Park Zoo in Portland, only to find out he was in line not for admission to the zoo but to be asked to sign a petition to ban dogs as a tool for cougar control. Needless to say, he did not sign the petition. However, thousands of urbanites, targeted at the popular site and presented only one side of the argument, did sign. Animal-rights groups won; rural residents lost.

"They're working on the sentiments of city people who don't have a clue what goes on out here," Peterson said in frustration.

Just as is the case with timber management, game management suffers when initiatives and agenda-driven legislation replace science and reason.

"You can't manage game from the election box," Peterson argues. "We have professionals, game people, they know it's not the right way, but when you get to working on people's sentiments, and they're nice and warm and fuzzy, then game management suffers."

Peterson has seen what a cougar can do to a full-sized elk. It isn't "nice and warm and fuzzy."

Then, there's the threat to other wildlife.

"I firmly believe our deer population is suffering severely because of the cougar population," Peterson asserts.

So, for anyone eager to buy a ranch and timber operation, particularly in Eastern Oregon, a gentle warning: Your challenges don't just come from the weather or the marketplace. Keep an eye out for bugs and cougars. These threats are brought to you courtesy of the groups who prevail at the ballot box with emotional rhetoric. Notice, of course, that they don't live anywhere near the places where pests and predators inflict fear and damage.

Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" can contact David Carkhuff by calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at editor@bluemountaineagle.com.

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