Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Clean Streams Initiative Deserves Your Vote     

By Andy Kerr

Column #5 - Go to next column

Length: 735 words

Published: 26 September 1996, Wallowa County Chieftain

To hear the cattle industry tell it, the Clean Streams Initiative will be the end of livestock grazing in Oregon. Only in my dreams, I'm afraid.

It won't end grazing, but it will reform it. Today over 9,000 miles of Oregon streams are polluted by livestock grazing, according to 10 retired professional state wildlife biologists, who can now speak without fear of retribution.

Cows to kill salmon. Grazing along streams causes the conversion of good topsoil into bad sediment and removes vital shading vegetation. Salmon need cold, clean water, with clean spawning gravels. Too many of Oregon's streams are lethal to salmon.

The evidence is clear. The more livestock in the stream, the less salmon.

While cattle in spawning streams are far from the only problem facing salmon, it is the problem least addressed. The dams are being modified in both structure and operation, fishing is curtailed, hatchery production is changing. If the timber industry can't clearcut along a stream with chainsaws, why should the cattle industry be allowed to with cattle?

All other segments of our economy and society that pollute have to take steps to mitigate or eliminate it. Cities are upgrading sewage systems and factories have to reduce their emissions, in the name of the common good? What makes the cattle industry so special?

Existing and future jobs in the fishing and other industries that rely on clean and plentiful water are at state. A coalition of citizen activists, frustrated with the power of the special interest cattle lobby to block reform bills in the Legislature, have taken their case directly to the people.

Water quality is important for people as well as salmon. "Livestock are one of the primary sources of pollution of our public waters," note six family doctors in a voter's pamphlet argument. "In fact, most polluted streams in Oregon will test positive for potentially dangerous fecal bacteria originating from livestock." They note that "decades of irresponsible livestock grazing have caused many of the streams and rivers in Oregon to become unfit for human use."

The Clean Streams Initiative was carefully crafted to be both effective and fair.

It will be effective because it requires actions to protect already polluted streams. Since government bureaucracies often don't do their job, the measure has a provision allowing citizens to directly bring suit against those who fail to comply with the law. It modeled after the successful federal Clean Water Act where it has worked quite well. Frivolous lawsuits haven't happened under the Clean Water Act and in won't happen under the Clean Streams Initiative, because of the specter of court sanctions against those who would abuse the legal process. A plaintiff who files a frivolous suit will end up paying everyone's legal costs and their attorney may be sanctioned as well.

It is fair because it gives landowners along polluted streams a 10-year grace period to develop a water quality management plan. The measure enables tax breaks and government grants to pay for the cost of fencing streams. It will not provide an unreasonable burden on landowners. Measure 38 is reasonable and understanding ranching's vital needs. It allows for fence gaps to allow livestock to water and cross the stream. It also has provisions exempting recreational livestock, if they don't significantly contribute to water quality problems. And one will still be able to ride a horse through a stream.

While some in the cattle industry are taking cooperative measures to restore the public's streams which flow through their land, many are not. Measure 38 will most affect these bad actors who shirk their responsibilities to be good land stewards.

The recovery of streams in our lifetimes, but only if we all do our part. The cattle industry should no longer be left out of the effort to restore the salmon.

Because they fear losing at the polls, the opponents of the Clean Streams Initiative, under pressure from Governor Kitzhaber, are saying they'll support reform in the next legislative session. Such talk is cheap. History is a better guide than good intentions.

Salmon can't wait. Yes on Measure 38.

Go to next column

Go back to column index