Editorials from around Oregon

Posted November 23

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Bend Bulletin, Nov. 18, on a state forest that's up for sale

The Elliott State Forest, located in the Oregon Coast Range northeast of Coos Bay, is for sale. State officials have received a single bid for the 82,000-acre forest, which they decided to sell in 2014. It's a decision that has environmental groups up in arms.

Yet the state Land Board's decision may be the only way to put the land to the use for which it was intended. In turn, that's a reflection on the state of forestry in Oregon these days, and it's not a pretty picture.

The forest has its roots in the 3.5 million acres the federal government granted Oregon when it became a state. That land, much of which was scattered in parcels, was expected to produce income for the state's schools, and the state constitution requires that it be managed to do so. In 1930 the state and federal governments completed the land swap that gave the Elliott the form and location it has today.

The Land Board — made up of the governor, the treasurer and the secretary of state — is charged with managing the land for the benefit of K-12 education. It was a relatively easy task for years, when the forest generated millions of dollars of income from the sale of timber. Sales peaked in the mid-1980s, however, and with the federal listing of the northern spotted owl as threatened in 1990, the picture changed.

Combine that listing with lawsuits over many of the state's plans for the forest, and the decision to sell the Elliott almost seems like a foregone conclusion. Suits have challenged the state's habitat conservation plan and its decisions to sell timber — also a threat to the marbled murrelet, another bird listed as threatened — over the years.

Today the Elliott is a money loser. It does actually turn a profit some years, but generally not more than $1 million. Other years it actually costs the state more than is collected from timber sales.

No doubt that's why the Land Board got one bid, for exactly the appraisal price of the property. No one but Lone Rock Timber Management, working with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians, thought it was worth even that much.

If environmental groups are unhappy with the decision to sell, they have only themselves to blame. Having brought logging and the revenue it generates to its knees, they've left the state with no other option.


The Albany Democrat-Herald, Nov. 17, on Trump and Oregon forest lands

You might have noticed a couple of news items last week that could have a bearing on what happens over the next quarter-century with Oregon's wood-products industry.

In one of the news items, the U.S. Forest Service announced that it had completed a scientific report that could form the basis for changes to the Northwest Forest Plan. The agency now is taking public comment on the document. It's a major step in the process of revising the plan, which aims to protect old-growth forest habitat while providing a predictable flow of logs to the timber industry. The plan has been controversial in these parts.

In the other news item of some note, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

Now, national forest policy was not among the major pillars of Trump's platform, but we know what he said during his May campaign stop in Eugene: Like many of Trump's policy pronouncements, it was short on the details, but at least we got a sense of his overall thinking on the subject.

During the Eugene stop, Trump cited some general statistics: He said three-fourths of the state's lumber mills have closed since the 1980s. Half of the state's wood-products jobs have vanished since 1990, he said. He blamed federal regulations, such as the Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act, for the losses.

That's the sort of stuff that played well at Trump campaign rallies in the West.

But, like many of Trump's campaign promises, it remains to be seen how much of a difference his administration will make in terms of federal lands. (For one thing, thanks to automation at lumber mills, many of those jobs never will be coming back, regardless of what happens in D.C. For another, it's not clear whether these issues will be a priority for Trump.)

One big clue will come in the nominations Trump makes for the Cabinet positions that do oversee federal lands. In that regard, early reports have not been particularly promising, unless you like the prospect of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin or Lucas Oil co-founder Forrest Lucas at the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees more than 15 million acres of land inside Oregon. (Names that have been floated for the secretary of agriculture, who oversees the Forest Service, include Sid Miller, the controversial commissioner of agriculture in Texas, according to a weekend story in the Eugene Register-Guard. An editorial in a Texas newspaper had this to say about Miller: "(A)s much as many Texans would love to be rid of Miller and his many missteps, we can't inflict him on the rest of the nation.") Trump would do well to find different appointees for both of those positions.

The history lesson Trump needs to keep in mind involves James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's controversial secretary of the interior. We don't need to see that kind of divisive figure in charge of federal lands; in fact, such a nomination might well guarantee continued gridlock.

Similarly, aggressive efforts to roll back the Northwest Forest Plan or the Endangered Species Act likely will trigger major battles in Congress and the courts that will linger for years.

We can't afford that. As we have noted now for years, it's important that we get people back to work on our federal lands, tackling the kind of maintenance projects that have gone untended for decades. But missteps now by the president-elect could have the unintended effect of making that much harder to accomplish.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Nov. 18, on UO's president

Two new studies regarding the reasons college presidents leave should be of particular interest in the home of the University of Oregon.

Prior to current President Michael Schill, who's been on the job less than a year and a half, the back-to-back two-year stints of Richard Lariviere and Michael Gottfredson represent — by far — the shortest two-president stays in the UO's 140-year history.

Let's hope history someday shows this was nothing more than an aberration in a length of presidential stays that otherwise mirrors the recent national average — about eight years. Let's hope Schill stays awhile, UO enrollment bounces back, the planned $1 billion science complex becomes a national model and the Ducks remember how to win football games again.

But pressure on college and university presidents is only increasing, suggest the studies, which were reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And the job is only getting more challenging and complex, suggesting the relatively long stints of Dave Frohnmayer (15 years; 1994-2009), Prince Lucien Campbell (23 years; 1902-1925) and John Wesley Johnson (17 years; 1876-1893) are becoming relics of the past.

A study led by Michael Harris, an associate professor of higher education at Southern Methodist University, looked at 500 presidential departures between 1988 and 2013. Among the more telling revelations was that nearly half of the involuntary departures — presidents who were canned — came between 2008 and 2013, the time period Lariviere and Gottfredson came and went. "There's no reason to think this has stopped," said Harris. "If anything, it has escalated in the past two or three years."

Beyond the economic crises of the late 2000s and early 2010s, the largest share of forced departures, more than a fifth, involved what the researchers called "financial impropriety." The runner-up? "Widespread campus dissatisfaction."

Among ousted presidents, the Chronicle reported, "three of the four who had been caught up in athletics controversies, and three of the five accused of plagiarism or other lapses of integrity met their downfalls after 2008."

A second study, which focused strictly on public university presidents' retirements or job changes, found that "working for large governing boards or for Republican governors tend to shorten tenure." The UO is governed by a 15-person board of trustees — fairly average in size — and the state hasn't had a Republican governor since Victor Atiyeh (1979-1987). That, if you trust the studies, bodes well for UO's Schill.

Beyond such telltales, however, the complexity of the job works against presidential longevity these days. Such leaders must preserve tradition and embrace cutting-edge technology. Must appease students filled with idealism, donors flush with dollars and professors protected by tenure. And, as Schill learned recently with the "blackface" incident, must navigate waters increasingly spiked with the land mines of political correctness and freedom of expression. All while making sure the football/marketing machine is attracting new customers — and in a social media world where one bad YouTube clip can, indeed, spoil the whole bunch.

Given such challenges, you can better understand UO's back-to-back two-year presidents, even if you hope that Schill's stay doesn't contribute to this becoming the new normal.


The Oregonian, Nov. 20, on the death penalty

Five years ago, former Gov. John Kitzhaber made an announcement that was as bold as it was surprising: His voice shaking with emotion, Kitzhaber declared that he would not allow any executions to take place as long as he was governor.

The decision immediately halted the impending execution of death-row inmate Gary Haugen, who had waived his legal appeals to protest the justice system. But it was also meant to kickstart a statewide conversation about the legitimacy of the death penalty in Oregon, a punishment so rarely carried out that only two of 63 people sentenced to die since 1984 have been executed. Both men, like Haugen, were volunteers.

But five years and a new governor later, the debate Kitzhaber envisioned hasn't begun. Meanwhile, the death-penalty machinery continues to run, with prosecutors seeking death sentences, juries granting them and the state spending millions in legal challenges, fighting for the right to execute someone who most likely will never be executed. Tuesday's anniversary of the moratorium will mark yet another year of missed opportunity.

There is, however, no better time than now to start changing that trajectory. Two studies, one by the Oregon Justice Resource Center and one by Gov. Kate Brown's general counsel's office, provide some ammunition for doing so.

First is cost: The Oregon Justice Resource Center, an anti-death penalty legal-services nonprofit, funded a study to quantify the cost of the death penalty to taxpayers, although it captured only some of the expenses. But the data it gathered showed that aggravated murder cases that resulted in death sentences cost taxpayers almost $1 million more than those that don't, as The Oregonian/OregonLive's Tony Hernandez reported. That's not even including the cost of housing them in separate death-row quarters, a statistic that the Department of Corrections doesn't split out from the overall prison population.

The second piece comes from a report compiled by Brown's general counsel. The report, which includes fascinating accounts of the preparations state officials undertook for Haugen's planned execution, detail significant legal, medical and logistical issues if Oregon were to resume executions. Among the chief problems: Manufacturers of drugs used in the lethal injection sequence are no longer making them or selling them to prisons.

All of this helps bolster the case for having this discussion. And while Brown has said she opposes the death penalty and will continue the moratorium, she hasn't signaled that she will drive the debate any further. Her spokesman, Bryan Hockaday, said her priority now is on the state's budget and that she has not identified any legislative priorities relating to the death penalty.

Certainly, the $1.7 billion budget shortfall that the state faces is and should be her primary focus. But the projected deficit also highlights why she and other leaders must move the death-penalty debate forward. The state's spending on such prosecutions that seek a theoretical punishment is the definition of wasting taxpayer money.

A good start would be in getting our arms around what we don't know. For example, Lewis & Clark Law School professor Aliza Kaplan, who was one of the authors of the report, notes that prosecutors don't tally the hours they spend on a case.

The state could direct district attorneys' offices to start tracking their time per case, just as lawyers in private practice bill clients for their work.

Similarly, the Department of Corrections could break out the portion that it devotes to death-row operations, which require more intensive management or special arrangements that aren't in place for the general prison population. The governor's report, for instance, noted that death-row inmates generally aren't allowed to leave their cells to seek medical care, requiring that medical staff visit inmates there each week.

Getting better data is something both supporters and opponents of capital punishment should get behind. It simply makes no sense to spend millions of dollars on a system that doesn't do what it says it will do. It's equally non-sensical to refuse to even talk about it.


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