Monday, April 27, 2015

Well now they've done it. As long as the thousands of Sea Lions that have been pouring into Astoria were just destroying Port mooring docks it was okay.  In fact a few have suggested the town should welcome the massive influx and turn the whole thing into a tourist attraction. But there is a new development in this story that makes the situation far more like an invasion and far less like something that could join the goonies house as a tourist destination.

The Sea Lions may be taking over the beloved River Front Trail.  Even worse, the lastest incursion threatens something else near to Astorian's hearts and minds. The River Front Trolley, enjoyed by thousands and another source of city pride. Sea Lions are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Doing anything that might disturb these wild animals is strictly against the law.  When the 17th street dock was under construction one of the requirements was to have spotters watching the river at all times looking for the Sea Lions. If any were spotted the pile driving operation would have to stop until the animals were no longer present.  It was feared that the pounding and the vibrations would disturb the protected creatures.

Attempts to stop the Sea Lions from impacting endangered salmon near Bonneville, including sending a few to Sea Lion heaven, required lots of paperwork, public hearings and special permits. But then we weren't talking about the Trolley. Now we are. Short runs on the Trolley line during the season may become the rule because to do otherwise would disturb the Sea Lions that make their way to those rail trestles. All that extra weight on the infrastructure will most likely have an impact as well.  As we have learned, anything that impacts the Trolley becomes a major issue and the subject of intense debate usually resulting in the Trolley winning out.  

 

Maybe not this tme.

 

The Port of Astoria took plenty of grief over their efforts to discourage the Sea Lions from piling up on the docks at the East End Mooring Basin.  None of those efforts paid off in the end due to the overwhelming numbers.  I suppose at this point we just cross our fingers and hope this is just a temporary change in the animal's migratory habits but there is plenty of evidence that suggests this may be a more permanent situation than anyone would care to entertain.  The Sea Lions have nearly perfect conditions here with a mild climate, a ready food supply, and no pressure from natural predators. With one exception.  Marine scientists track killer whales and the the pods they live amongst.  One of those pods makes regular swings past the Columbia and it's this particular pod that seems to be successfully breeding.  Orca calves were recently spotted swimming along with the pod.

Maybe Mother Nature will help solve the Sea Lion problem afterall.

As the house gets ready to take a look at Senate Bill 324 A, more commonly referred to as the low carbon fuel standard bill, agricultural organizations express their concerns over SB 324 A to Oregonians.

Jenny Dresler, government affairs associate for the Oregon Farm Bureau, said that while they can't be certain of what environmental benefits SB 324 A would bring, they likely won't be substantial. In addition to uncertainty of the bills effectiveness, "the funds raised by the program will not fund critical infrastructure or road improvements." Dresler said.

The bill would hit Oregon's agriculture industry hard. Jerome Rosa, executive director for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, said, "On estimate, this could raise fuel costs 4 cents to $1 per gallon." Rosa explains that this causes a huge impact on ranchers in rural Oregon because of the distance they are forced to drive for basic needs. "Many legislatures on the West part of the state may not understand that," Rosa said.

Dresler adds that any increase in transportation costs would harm all agricultural businesses. "It, (SB 324 A), would increase the cost of doing business in Oregon and make Oregon agriculture less competitive," she said.

Jim Welsh, political advocate for the Oregon Cattlemen's Association brings up another concern lawmakers should take into account. "We don't have the technology for manufacturing and blending ethanol at the volumes we will need," Welsh said. "The land acreage needed to grow the crops necessary for ethanol production will be transferred from food crops for humans and food animals." He believes this could eventually result in a food shortage in Oregon.

Welsh said there are other ways to lower the carbon emissions, but that SB 324 A is not the best option. "Reducing forest fires and replanting trees and plants on burned over forest and range lands as fast as possible is a good way to reduce carbon emissions," he said. Wildfires have been a significant problem in Oregon the last couple years.

At this point in time, Dresler encourages concerned Oregonians to immediately write to their house member and let them know their opposition to SB 324 A. "SB 324 A would raise fuel prices, impacting Oregon's families and small businesses," Dresler said. "Oregonians need policies that encourage job growth." The bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floortomorrow.

The Oregon Cattlemen's Association was founded in 1913 and works to promote environmentally and socially sound industry practices, improve and strengthen the economics of the industry, and protect its industry communities and private property rights.

You may have gotten the same mailer I did last week.

It was one of those giant political postcards that were very popular in the General Election.  At least my mailbox was stuffed with them on a regular basis until election day mercifully rolled around.

This one was a little different.

It screamed at me.  

It insisted I contact State Representative Debbie Boone right away and insist she vote against the low carbon fuel measure and absolutely insisted it's a secret tax plan dreamed up by some "Portland Environmentalists".

I suppose that "Portland" part was supposed to press a rural hot button.  It's true that many who don't happen to live in the valley are immediately suspicious of anyone who not only lives there, but happens to be an "environmentalist".  I swear that I was just about to pick up the phone while firing up my laptop to heed the call and start my personal campaign to stop whatever those Portland Environmentalists might be up to now when I noticed the return address on that colorful and impactful mailer.

It was from a group with a Portland address.

I put down the phone.  I shut off my laptop.  I went about my business.

The last thing I need is to get in the middle of a dust-up between Portlanders. Can't they all just get along?

 

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