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Cougars: Recessionary budget wolves at the door, and all the Oregon House can talk about are cougars? The biennial bear and cougar fights are on again. Ever since Measure 18 passed in 1994, for my past five legislative sessions, hunters have tried to overturn the will of the people by turning to the Legislature; and I always get caught in the middle of it because of my district. From the UO campus to the Steamboat Inn on the North Umpqua, from the south hills of Eugene to Drain and Yoncalla, from Oakridge to Oakland. Talk about a swing district — my two House members are Jeff Kruse and Floyd Prozanski, Elmer Fudd and Abraham Lincoln!
Here's the Senate, preoccupied with disappearing school days, brain-dead seizure patients who ran out of Medically Needy coverage, suicides caused by closing down mental health programs, and PERS; and the House is wasting our time on professional wrestling, metal pants and cougars? Here's the perfect political solution to this biennial debate, and we can charge admission. We'll form a work group composed of the "special interest" lobbyists involved in this bill, then we'll put them all in one of those caged, no-holds-barred, no-exit wrestling arenas. We'll pass food and assorted liquid beverages through on a slider. We will feed them experts from both sides — dueling sciences. The last side standing wins.
(And they'll only have one Porta-Potty manned — with a towel on his arm — by our distinguished colleague, Senator Atkinson. Jason must be still trying to overcome a childhood trauma dealing with the aforementioned plumbing fixture by pushing a bill that would require perma-potties on the Capitol mall; he has issues, as they say — but, I digress.)
I know, most of us were taught that "dueling science" is an oxymoron, because sound, verifiable, scientific methodology should yield only one result. Think again. Welcome to the world of predator management, testosterone, trophy hunts, animal defenders and other self-proclaimed stewards of the planet Earth. One side holds up the argument that it's just a matter of time until someone's little baby gets eaten, so we gotta hunt them critters. Then a wildlife biologist on the other side points out that hunting cougars actually creates more human/cougar confrontations because hunters love to kill big mature adult males, and when they do, that territory is taken up by immature cubs who don't understand the borders and boundaries of their new turf.
Anecdotally, I believe the cougar population has increased. We'd never seen cougars in our 20 years out here at the Flying Pig Ranch, but in the past few years we've seen a cougar several times at our place; and our neighbor met one in his driveway one morning recently. Last week, in Blachly, two cubs and their mother were executed after eating two goats. But I generally end up in the same place on this issue: There's a reason we hire wildlife biologists to work for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife — to manage the damn animal populations. If ODFW says control the cougars, we should probably listen to them. Meanwhile, shut up Jeff Kropf, go get signatures on an initiative if you want to vote on this thing again — the voters already told you NO. For now, Jeff, just go put on your Elvis suit and chill.
The animal rights folks will argue that ODFW doesn't have the right attitude; after all, they used to be known as "Fish and Game." I'll never forget the time Jeannie caught a chicken-thievin' bobcat in a Hav-a-Heart trap and when she asked the wildlife guy what she should do next, he assured her that she couldn't have captured the bobcat. That was not the answer she wanted to hear.
Farmworker justice: Speaking of biennial events, it appears the growers will try to push another bad bill out of the House. Attacks on farmworkers have been going on since the 1997 session, since the Oregon Supreme Court ruled on the Oregon Roses case. The current version would give farmworkers the right to strike, but not during harvest time; and it would not provide any venue for timely settlement of labor violations and bargaining. No, se puedes.
It's déjà vu again, Yogi. The next thing you know, the House will be trying to eliminate motorcycle helmets again. What's that? They are? They did? Back to the bad movie: "Dial V for Veto, The Sequel" starring, guess who?
Sen. Tony Corcoran of Cottage Grove represents portions of Lane and Douglas counties in Senate District 4, which includes the UO area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The powerful lobby organization, Associated Oregon Industries (AOI), was not happy in 1996 when Eugene's citizens voted to grant themselves the right to find out what toxic chemicals are produced, stored, and dumped into their air and water by local manufacturers. Even then-Governor Kitzhaber, a physician, opined that only the state, not a local community, should grant that right.
In other words, Eugene shouldn't give workers at St. Vincent de Paul's facility on 7th and Seneca the ability to find out what chemicals are making some of them keep their office windows closed, and might be causing the headaches some experience at work. As it turns out, in 2002 Lanz Cabinet across the street released 60 tons of acetone and more than 18 tons of butyl acetate (along with 37 other chemicals) into the air St. Vincent de Paul's 80 workers breathe. Both acetone and butyl acetate are toxic to human nervous, gastrointestinal, and respiratory systems.
In 2002, 360 tons of 36 manufacturers' toxic chemicals filled the air breathed by residents in Lanz Cabinet's zip code (97402). By comparison, one ton was released in the air around the UO (i.e., zip code 97403)*. (However, the UO, a state institution that Eugene's law can't govern, has refused to voluntarily report its toxics use and releases. The city of Eugene, although not a manufacturer, voluntarily reports.)
At the behest of AOI and the Semiconductor Industry Association, the 1999 Legislature created Oregon Statute 453.370. This law made it virtually impossible for any other Oregon community to establish their right to know about local toxic exposures. The state law also capped program fees at $2,000 per company for Eugene's program starting in 2004. This means, in order to cover costs of the program, small companies of 10 workers will annually pay as much as $200 per full-time worker, while the largest companies (e.g., Hynix) will pay less than $3 per worker. Currently, every manufacturer is paying $13.92 per worker. The state law is also requiring that Eugene "provide an opportunity for written and oral public comment" on its program**, as if voting for it had not been comment enough.
I believe the right to know about toxic exposures should be recognized as a human right. But "rights" never exist as an indisputable fact, such as "There is a mountain here in front of us." Instead, human communities, with broad or constricted participation, decide which human rights they will grant or deny. Sometimes we even decide to recognize that other species have some rights, for instance, to not be purposefully driven extinct. President Bush's administration seems particularly focused on taking rights away, for instance diminishing the Bill of Rights via the PATRIOT Act, and eliminating the current requirement that the Forest Service insure the survival of native plant and animal species residing in national forests.
Communities (whether local, national, or international) define themselves by which and whose rights they acknowledge and deliver. A student's right to learn art as well as take math tests? A corporation's right to pollute ancient plants and animals with engineered genes? A child's right to play in a field free of land mines? A wolf's right to return to Oregon? A released felon's right to vote? A corporation's right to buy an election? A president's right to invade and occupy a country?
At the moment, there may be no more urgent task in front of each of us than to consider what rights our community, nation, and world should be delivering, to whom; and to gain, restore, and protect those rights. I suggest two particular guidelines: 1) prioritize rights for the most vulnerable humans, not the most powerful; and 2) consider the long-term rights of other species who, like us, call this planet home.
* The clever and user-friendly charts and right-to-know reports on www.ci.eugene.or.us/toxicsprovided the above information about Lanz Cabinet toxics, pollution by zip code, and health effects data.
** I do urge you to let the Toxics Board know on or before May 5 that you support Eugene's toxics reporting program. See news item, page 8.
Mary O'Brien has worked as a public interest scientist for the past 21 years. She can be reached at email@example.com