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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beloved and I had a conversation

A photo on Flickr [posted by risa]

Finally made it to the reservoir; after months of rain we had a little break and I made the most of it. There would have been a little warmth in the sun, even, but the wind was steady from the east by southeast, and up that canyon, at the top, there is eight feet of snow. So I bundled up, and lasted about an hour and a half, what you might call refrigerated bliss. From sheer force of habit, I had a line in the water, and though it dipped twice, for what felt like nibbles from underaged whitefish, I brought nothing aboard, which was just as well.

No, seriously, some days you just don't really feel like reading a fish's entrails.

There were the usual assorted seagulls, with a smattering of herons and cormorants, and the massive rafts of coots. But almost no people. Maybe six -- with six miles of shoreline. I know the day was cold, but ... ten years ago, there would have been more than a hundred.

There are several possible reasons for this.

One is that there are way less trout. Trout don't reproduce in this water, because it is full of pikeminnows, who do, and who regard trout fry as the ultimate lunch, and because there are no gravelly creeks coming in. It's river water, but there is a dam above and a dam below. So the Fish and Game put trout in every year.

But, see -- in 2001, the Fish and Game put thirty thousand trout in here. This year, maybe 9,000 on the outside. Why less? Not enough money to really do hatchery fish any more. The money for that went "away," for things deemed more important than trout, or kids' education, or preventive medicine, things like frisking anybody with a funny last name.

The trout live five years on the outside, so the lake as a draw for fishing has waned quite a bit. That leaves it to the people that were terrifying me on a regular basis -- skiers and jet boaters. But they're not here either.

Where'd they go? I know a few. So I asked. The answers fell into two classes: "Well, had to cut back a bit." And: "Well, not as much time as I useta have."

These answers are related. Cut back means the price of gasoline (and/or gasoline-intensive toys). Not as much time often seems to mean working longer hours, or too many other irons in the fire, such as watching the kids while one's spouse works a different shift. Or trying to fix something that once meant a call to the plumber or the electrician.

Boats are staying under the tarps. Many of the toys are for sale, and aren't being picked up quickly.

My journey to the reservoir was eight miles there, eight back. I did glance at the gas gauge and think, is this a good idea? I had thought about that before, but never with quite so much stomach-area anxiety.

I passed houses I had been seeing for over thirty years. More of them are going longer between paint jobs. More things are lying about in the yards. People aren't smiling much. They're waving less. They face away from the road, shoulders hunched.

Some of the malaise I'm encountering is about the O&C lands. The Oregon and California Railroad was deeded every other section of forest land in much of Western Oregon as a means of financing the railroad, so that crops from the Willamette valley could go south on railcars. The more than 3 million acres was to be sold to settlers, but the railroad decided in 1903 not to continue selling, a violation of their agreement. It's said that over 1000 railroad managers, politicians, and hangers-on were indicted in what proved to be fraudulent land sales anyway.

The federal government reasserted ownership (paying the railroad the $2.50 per acre that they would have gotten from selling the lands properly in the first place) and placed these lands under Interior, with Bureau of Land management oversight, and allotted a portion of the revenues from timber sales to Oregon counties.

We have never had much of a tax base in Oregon. It's a vast place, so we are 13.6 people to the square km, 39th in the nation. Try taxing a rock's personal income. You can walk from my house to Idaho, if you're careful to zig and zag enough, without meeting a single person. And this is, really, in spite of all the cows and cornfields around here, the suburbs. So the O&C money pretty much made our infrastructure possible.

The BLM has often shown more interest in the well-being and happiness of large logging firms than the Forest Service, whose practices, while sometimes questionable, have generally been more sustainable. Much of this wood went overseas as raw logs, skipping the millhands and the local economy, except for the O&C county revenues.

And then the easy trees were mostly gone. Blame for the sudden reductions in harvest went to "coddling" of Spotted Owls, but the fact is that when you go out and look, the easy clear cuts have already been done, and the hard-to-do ones are most of what remains, not so competitive with Indonesian or Canadian wood as the logging companies would like.

There's a lot of second growth, trees under a hundred years old, that could be harvested under commercial-thinning stewardship rules. But that kind of contract, which provides a lot of employment and not very much profit, is not favored by the big outfits, who have machines costing five hundred thousand dollars and more sitting around rusting.

What they want is to keep doing the big trees that their machines handle best (less than ten percent of those remain). Not necessarily faulting them for thinking that way; if I had my money tied up in a yarder that can swing 160,000 tons of logs a year, I'd be anxious about that rust too. But that's not where I would have put my money ... if I had that kind of money ...

So the current administration will provide for these big fellas and their yarders, and not for the small outfits that can handle the smallwood that's most of what remains; and they'll do so without requiring that they give back to the state and counties where the trees are growing -- the O&C money had begun to dry up, it's true, but now that tap has been even further turned off, essentially shutting down the flow permanently.

Without access to the vast amount of money to be made, by a very few, under the new rules, counties in Oregon, which had already eliminated many programs, will be much less in evidence. Library services, health services, police protection, and road maintenance are all taking the same kind of hits as the yards and houses that I see along the road to the reservoir -- which is cratering as time goes on.

I'm not saying all this is about bad things being done by wicked people, though I do think that there's quite a bit of that; I'm saying change is taking place, and accelerating.

We do still use gasoline around the place.

On my way back from the Reservoir, I stopped to fill two 2.5 gallon cans at the store down by the river.

It came to $15.00 even.

While I paid the cheerful young man at the pump, I wondered about his future. Then I wondered about mine not that there's so much of that in my case, but still --

I'm supposed to retire in 1219 days. There's a fund, and a better one than most around here, and I'm in it. But that money is going to be shrinking faster than I can put it in.

When I got home, Beloved and I had a conversation about the fences, the grass, sheep, goats, poultry, and what are now called chicken tractors.

I went to bed half dreaming of a bike trailer for hauling hay bales too...



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