Mismanagement by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has led to a serious decline in mule deer populations, Wildlife Advisory Board Chairman Larry Burton told the Grant County Court on Feb. 27.

While the board had no specific recommendations for how to address ODFW management at this time, they wanted a commitment from the court to continue funding for a wildlife protection agent.

The court was asked to establish a permanent budgeted county position for a wildlife protection agent with an annual budget of $85,000 and to hire the current contract employee, Nick Lulay.

County Judge Scott Myers agreed the county probably could continue to partially fund the position and noted that $11,000 still remained for predator control in the current fiscal year.

The wildlife board also asked the court to fill the “already approved” position of Grant County natural resource adviser using the “approved” job description and asked that the position be filled with a member of the wildlife board.

The court, however, indicated it had not made up its mind on how to provide for a natural resource adviser — whether it be a single person in a budgeted position, a five-member committee or a partnership with Oregon State University.

Commissioner Jim Hamsher suggested holding a discussion on filling the position in the evening so more members of the public could attend. When asked if the wildlife board had chosen a person to fill the position, Burton said no. The matter was tabled by the court.

• Hamsher will travel to Washington, D.C., in early March with representatives from Harney, Wallowa, Malheur, Baker and Union counties to meet with Rep. Greg Walden and the National Association of Counties’ Public Lands Steering Committee.

The group will carry a court-approved petition addressed to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting exemption from the Forest Service’s 2005 Travel Management Rule for the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman national forests.

“Any additional regulation, such as the 2005 Travel Management Rule, will only harm local communities, county residents and recreational opportunities, while offering no tangible resource benefits,” the petition states. “In fact, it will have negative resource consequences.”

• The court approved the following volunteers for the new Water Resource Committee: Jim Driscoll, Doug Ferguson, Lance Zweygardt, Elaine Eisenbraun, Jason Kehrberg, Melanie DeJong, Shaun Robertson, Mike Martin and Justin Rowell.

• The court approved two ordinances establishing enforcement authority and a fee schedule for an intergovernmental agreement with Harney County to share costs for inspection services for residential septic systems.

Assistant Planner Shannon Springer said property owners now rely on inspection services from the Department of Environmental Quality office in Pendleton and were receiving less than satisfactory service.

The court also approved sending a letter to the state Building Codes Division citing two pages of complaints about service. Springer said processing for permits for new construction could take 10-12 weeks, which created a hardship for contractors and property owners.

• The court approved hiring former economic development coordinator Sally Bartlett to continue tracking federal Secure Rural Schools Title III funding to the county. She will receive $500 per month through the end of August while she also trains the new county economic coordinator, Allison Field, to take over the work.

• The court approved a request by Grant County Assessor David Thunell to cancel back taxes for 84 properties totaling nearly $70,000 because they could not be collected.

• Hamsher informed the court the electronic control systems for Prairie City’s newly installed variable-speed septic pumps were damaged during the power outage that struck the county in the early morning hours of Feb. 25.

• The court approved a request by Roadmaster Alan Hickerson to allow an intern to learn mechanics through a program offered by Cooley Associates of Bend. After one year of working in the Road Department, the intern could apply for a job with the county if a position is available.

• The court approved Treasurer Julie Ellison presenting a cost-of-living wage increase of 2.55 percent for the next fiscal year to the county’s budget committee. The figure comes from the annual Consumer Price Index report

• The county’s new website is up and running at grantcountyoregon.net.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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