The occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year saw frustrations boil over between ranchers and the federal government, most notably the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
While those issues continue to linger, Congressman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, said he’s encouraging the Secretary of the Interior to draw more attention to collaboratives that have made improvements on the range, such as the High Desert Partnership in Harney County.
Walden visited with the Pendleton Rotary Club on Monday to discuss fallout from the occupation, as well as his efforts to revamp wildfire funding and oppose a national monument proposed at the Owyhee Canyonlands.
Part of the issue with federal land management, Walden said, has been the Equal Access to Justice Act, which compensates the attorney fees for organizations that sue the government if they can prove their suit is justified. Responding to a question from the audience, Walden said the law has become like an ATM for litigious groups and has slowed down progress toward making the land resilient to fires.
“Everything gets appealed, everything gets litigated and nothing gets done,” Walden said.
Enter into this setting the proposal for national monument at the Owyhee Canyonlands, which would include 2.5 million acres — twice the size of Grand Canyon National Park in the southwest. Walden said residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, and worried about additional restrictions on ranching.
“There are already seven layers of management over these areas in Eastern Oregon,” he said. “I don’t see how an eighth is going to help anything, unless your goal is to get cattle off the range.”
In other news, Walden said the House has passed his wildfire funding bill for the fourth time in as many years. The Resilient Federal Forests Act would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transfer disaster funding to the Forest Service and BLM when they have exhausted their firefighting budgets, rather than borrow the money from other programs. The bill would also expedite forest thinning projects up to 15,000 acres if they are planned by collaborative groups.
The Senate has yet to take up the bill, but Walden said he’s hoping the fourth time will be the charm. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, along with Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Maria Cantwell, D-Washington and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, recently released their own draft legislation that targets “fire-borrowing” and accelerating forest restoration. Differences between the two bills could be sorted out in a conference committee later this legislative session.
During Q-and-A, Walden addressed topics ranging from the looming Republican National Convention to the threat posed by domestic terrorism in the wake of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. Walden said domestic terrorism — especially “lone wolf” attackers — are a serious threat, but voiced reservations about legislation that would have restricted gun sales to anyone on the no-fly or terrorist watch list. The Senate rejected further gun curbs on Monday.
“That due process is missing,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Walden visited Echo for a town hall before moving on to meet with veterans leaders in La Grande and a second town hall in Baker City.
Contact George Plaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0825.