JOHN DAY - The 11th annual Road Kill Chili Feed at the John Day Senior Center on Tuesday, Nov. 26, served a dual purpose.
The annual get-together commemorated the citizens' victory regarding the right of people to recover usable meat from road-killed animals; and in a more timely deliberation, Tuesday's gathering also gave Grant County citizens the opportunity to submit nominations for the newly approved Grant County Public Forest Commission.
In recent days, formation of the commission and whether the ballot initiatives should have been put to the voters have been called into question by the Oregon Secretary of State's Office through the Board of Elections.
However, initiators of the original petition drive indicated that they would proceed with accepting nominations while a determination as to the legality of forming the commission was being studied by the county's attorney.
"There are a number of things which are being looked into right now and as far as we can see, everything was done in accordance with the law," Herb Brusman said. "According to the Grant County District Attorney's Office and the Oregon Attorney General's Office, we followed all the procedures and filed the petitions the right way before they appeared on the ballot."
Commission advocate Dave Traylor said there were several reasons why a decision was made to form a commission.
"Right now, we are losing more timber than we are growing here in Grant County," he said. "The timber that is out there now is causing problems because it hasn't been managed properly. Our main goal is to have a healthy, fire-resistant forest we can all enjoy and pass on to future generations."
Traylor pointed out that the area has received about one-third of the normal rainfall this year and this is another reason the forests need attention.
"We need to determine how we are going to address this problem and begin to take action before fire consumes what we have left," he said. "We have had several fires in the area this year which consumed a considerable amount of acres, and timber-land which burned down years ago hasn't recovered yet."
Traylor said the goal is not to cut down the timber but to preserve it.
"We need to formulate a stewardship plan for our forests, as the paid stewards we have now from the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are so tied up in red tape they haven't been able to get to it," Traylor said. "We are not living up to our standards as American citizens if we are not good stewards of our natural resources."
Traylor said President Bush has called for the creation of charter forests and local control, and that is exactly in line with what the people of Grant County voted to do.
"What we need to do is be proactive and take some preemptive action to take care of the forests," Traylor said. "We need to think about making plans right now, come up with some workable solutions, and put them out to the public."
Traylor said he has every intention of putting a delegation together and going to Washington, D.C. with a plan for action.
"I talked with Greg Walden and Ted Ferrioli (U.S. representative and state senator, respectively), and they have no problem with this," he said.
Citizens launched the Road Kill Chili Feed in 1992 after the issue of how to best use road-killed game meat sparked a controversy in Grant County. County residents passed an ordinance defending the right to salvage road-killed animals. Later, in 1997, the measure was deemed illegal by the district attorney's office because the ordinance clashed with state law. However, prior to this opinion, Traylor won a moral victory in Grant County Circuit Court when he was cleared after being cited for killing and salvaging a roadkill deer. Under state law, wildlife - even roadkill wildlife - is considered the property of the state. Citizen salvage of roadkill meat is prohibited under state law based on health reasons.
Forest commission quandary
When the Oregon Secretary of State's office notified Grant County that an election for a county-based forest commission could not occur until 2004, local voters found their desire for a commission left up in the air.
At the present time, about 16 citizens' names have been placed in nomination for the seven permanent and two alternate positions on the commission.
Nominees include: Walt Gentis, Arleigh Isley, Ken Kindig, Marlyn Hoffman, Gene Emery, Roy Peterson, Mike Smith, Dave Traylor, Nick Sheedy, Dale Stennett, Bud Trowbridge, Tad Houpt, Merle Brown, Charlie O'Rourke, Herb Brusman, Ted Merrill, Dan Komning, Ken Speakman, Roger Ediger, Jim Cernazanu, Austene Hendrix, Bill Gibbs and Dean Elliott. Traylor said he wasn't sure whether everyone who was nominated would want to serve on the commission, but he felt that those who did should begin meeting right away and start formulating plans while a determination is being made as to when and how an election would be held.
The final opinion of state officials could clash with the expressed desire of county voters. In the ballot initiative language, voters were told that "a county-wide election of seven commissioners and two alternate commissioners shall be conducted within 42 days" of the initiative's enactment (Nov. 5, 2002). This standard mandates an election by Dec. 16, with commissioners to take office on Jan. 1, 2003. The Grant County Clerk's office confirmed that the timing of an election remains in limbo.