For the better part of a century, timber has been one of Oregon’s main industries. It should come as no surprise that it has helped shape who we are as a state today. However, when timber corporations use their influence to shape our community’s regulations on dangerous herbicides, we have a problem.
Community Rights Lane County has been fighting corporate influence on local politics since its founding in 2012. Just recently they have been working to pass an initiative to prohibit the aerial spraying of herbicides by timber corporations, which they claim would greatly reduce the environmental damage caused by the timber industry in Lane County.
More specifically, the initiative in question is a proposed ban on the spraying of neonicotinoid-based herbicides from helicopters. Neonicotinoids have been proven to have extremely adverse affects not only on plants and animals, but on entire ecosystems, watersheds and humans. While this initiative would not ban outright the use of these toxic chemicals, it would limit the methods of their application.
It is currently common practice for timber companies to spray excessive quantities of these herbicides from the air. This is because 40 percent of the herbicides sprayed are lost to the wind. The chemicals lost to drift don’t just disappear, they end up contaminating neighboring farms, properties and forests. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the clear-cutting practices that are often used by the timber companies cause soil erosion and further contamination of water sources.
CRLC’s campaign against aerial spraying has gained widespread support among our community. It has also been met with much resistance, and they are already facing blowback just months after the initiative’s creation.
In August, Dennis Morgan, a local small-business owner, filed an ordinance which would have given the Lane County Board of Commissioners authority to veto any initiative petitions if deemed to be not of county concern.
The timing of this proposed ordinance suggests that it was created to target the initiatives spearheaded by CRLC. According to The Register-Guard, although this ordinance was rejected, retired Eugene attorney Stan Long is now suing to ensure that the particular initiatives being petitioned for by CRLC are in compliance with yet another pre-election rule. The suit alleges that Lane County clerk Cheryl Betschart and the county’s lead attorney Steve Dingle did not follow the “proper legal process” before they let advocates of the initiative begin gathering signatures.
In a statement released by CRLC, they claim that the ordinance previously proposed by Dennis Morgan and Stan Long’s lawsuit are a direct affront to Lane county’s citizens’ right to self-governance, and that both men are working as “mouthpieces” for timber companies here in Eugene.
The CRLC’s claims ring true, as Dennis Morgan has direct links to the timber industry. He is the treasurer of the Community Action Network Political Action Committee (PAC) which receives tens of thousands of dollars from timber companies, according to the Oregon Secretary of State PAC transaction web page. Stan Long’s connection to the industry is unknown at this point, but he did write a letter in support of Morgan’s proposition and upon its failure immediately filed a follow-up lawsuit to stop the initiatives.
It is necessary to pass legislation to bring an end to the irresponsible practice of aerial spraying, for environmental, economic and health reasons. The return to the use of backpack sprayers would restore a number of jobs that were lost when timber corporations switched to the more “efficient” method of aerial spraying. Organic farms would no longer have to fear losing their USDA organic status if residual herbicides from neighboring tree farms show up in their soil. Habitats would be protected from the excessive quantity of the chemicals being sprayed and our watershed’s and community’s health would benefit in-turn.
Despite the common-sense argument for the initiative, it is to be expected that it is being met with so much resistance. Timber corporations have historically called the shots on Oregon legislation, and even a relatively minor initiative like this poses the threat of lost profits for the industry.
CRLC is providing our community with an invaluable service. By giving us a platform to stand up to big timber corporations and to write our own laws protecting ourselves and our surrounding ecosystems, they are setting the stage for further resistance to corporate influence in community politics.