Klamath Basin News, Tuesday, 4/19 – Oregon Board of Forestry Holds Virtual Session Addressing Summer Wildfire Plans

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The latest and most comprehensive coverage of local News, Sports, Business, and Community News stories in the Klamath Basin, Southern Oregon and around the state of Oregon from Wynne Broadcasting’s KFLS News/Talk 1450AM / 102.5FM, The Herald & News, and BasinLife.com, and powered by Mick Insuranceyour local health and Medicare agents.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Klamath Basin Weather

Today A chance of snow showers before 11am, then a chance of rain and snow showers between 11am and 2pm, then rain showers likely after 2pm. Some thunder is also possible as the day rolls on, with a high near 48. Snow level rising to 4700 feet. Southwest winds 8 to 18 mph, with gusts to 28 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. Little snow accumulation expected. Overnight mostly cloudy, with a low around 30 and gusty winds to 15 mpg.

Wednesday A slight chance of snow before 8am, then a slight chance of rain and snow between 8am and 11am, then rain likely after 11am with a high near 51.
Thursday A chance of snow before 11am, then rain likely. Snow level rising to 4700 feet in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49. Chance of precipitation is 70%.
Friday A slight chance of snow before 11am, then a slight chance of rain. Snow level rising to 4800 feet in the afternoon. Partly sunny, with a high near 51.
Saturday Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.

Today’s Headlines

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The Oregon Board of Forestry held a virtual informational session earlier this month where speakers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management shared their plans for the next decade amidst the wildfire crisis.

Mike Spisak, an assistant director for the U.S. Forest Service, said, in 2020 alone, 1.9 million acres of forest burned down in Washington and Oregon. Now, there are thousands of acres in need of restoration.

Spisak discussed just how devastating of an impact the fires have on road systems, landscapes, trails and recreation. He said funds released through disaster relief have been helpful in tackling systems to help overcome wildfires, but that there are more opportunities to work together to prevent wildfires.

To address the wildfire crisis, he said the Forest Service is looking to treat an additional 20 million acres on National Forest land in the next 10 years as well as an additional 30 million on non-forest service lands to help prevent wildfires. These lands include federal, state, tribal and private lands. In order to achieve this goal, they must treat over double the number of acres they currently treat annually.

The treatment regimens can include prescribed burns as well as mechanical means to reduce brush and other fuel for potential fires. Dry conditions from droughts have combined with brush to result in some recent extreme fires in northern California and Pacific Northwest.

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Heavy spring snows have stalled road opening efforts at Crater Lake National Park.

Marsha McCabe, the park’s information officer, said as of Thursday the park had been blasted with six feet of new snow since Monday morning, including 12 inches in the 24-hour period that ended 7 a.m. Thursday.

As of Thursday morning the on-ground snow total at park headquarters was 87 inches while the total snowfall for the winter season, which began Oct. 1, 2021, was 371, or 85 percent of average.

Snow clearing efforts, which had cleared West Rim Drive to the North Junction and along the North Junction Road, have stalled with the heavy snowfall. The heavy snow has resulted in closing the road from park headquarters in Munson Village to Rim Village.

The road closure has also prevented Crater Lake Hospitality from operating its Rim Village concession facilities. For updated information on Crater Lake road conditions call the visitor center office at 541-594-3000 or visit the park website at www.nps.gov/crla.

The Klamath Tribes are suing the Biden administration over its decision to release some water from Upper Klamath Lake for use by drought-besieged farmers and other irrigators.

That’s not the only grief the U.S. government is getting over its decision to release a small amount of water in the Klamath Basin as the region faces severe drought conditions. Oregon-based Klamath Tribes contend the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to release 50,000-acre feet of water for the Klamath Project violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The tribes are made up of the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples in southern Oregon and northern California. The Klamath Tribes argue the release of water will hurt the Lost River sucker fish and shortnose sucker fish. Both are listed as endangered species. Don Gentry, the Oregon’s tribe’s chairman, has written the heads of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notifying them of the intent to sue the government alleging ESA violations.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will provide 50,000 acre-feet of water this season to Klamath Project irrigators as the region grapples with a third consecutive year of extreme drought conditions. That is about 15% of what farmers say they need from the Klamath Reclamation Project, which gets irrigation allotments from the dammed river water in Upper Klamath Lake.

Farmers did not get any water allocations last year as the region faces the severe drought conditions. Gentry said in his April 14 letter to USBR Acting Commissioner David Palumbo and USFWS Director Marsha Williams that a planned Klamath water release will negative impact spawning for the sucker fish.

It will be the third lawsuit the tribes has brought against the federal government in the last five years, Gentry said in his letter.

Has this week’s wet and wild wintry weather made an impact on the water year and the drought for the state of Oregon?

In the Willamette Valley and Northwestern Oregon, yes. The rest of the state, not so much. Oregon climatologist Larry O’Neill says that coming into this storm, we were having a very rapid meltdown of the snowpack across the state. And what this storm did is — it’s cold, and it looks like it will remain cold for at least the next week, So it will preserve what snow we do have,”  and he adds, “just a couple of days ago we’re looking at possibly an historic early melt-out, one of the earliest melt-outs, four to six weeks early; now, we’re looking more along the lines of one to three weeks early.

The last storm even managed to head farther south than most had been going, bringing some highway-closing snow to the Siskiyou Summit Willamette Pass, and Lake of the Woods highways. O’Neill says . in terms of our water supply, that was very good news, because it meant a little more water in a region that was staring down an historically bad water season. What that might help with is maybe a little more irrigation water, a little less pressure on the municipal water supplies, and possibly a little bit more water for stream flow and fish habitat. Just in the past week, snowpack in the Willamette Basin went up from 73% to 102%. In the Hood/Sandy/Lower Deschutes it went from 100% to 127%. In the Rogue/Umpqua Basin it went up from 34% to 63%.

For the rest of the region, the numbers aren’t so positive. Unlike California, which can and does move water from the wetter northern part of the state to the drier areas in the south, Oregon does not have that kind of infrastructure set up to do that.

A custodian, a kindergarten teacher, a bus driver trainer, a special education resource specialist, a paraprofessional, a band director, and two high school teachers are receiving the Klamath County School District’s top honor this year – a Crystal Apple Award.

The district’s Crystal Apple awardees personify educators who go above and beyond for students. They will be recognized tonight (Tuesday) at KCSD’s annual Crystal Apple Awards Gala.

The gala begins at 7 p.m. at the Ross Ragland Theater. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Students from Henley High School and Stearns and Merrill elementary schools will perform at the event.

Glen Szymoniak, superintendent of the Klamath County School District, said the Crystal Apple Awards represent a meaningful way to recognize and thank those who inspire and support students and coworkers.

Here are the district’s Crystal Apple Awards winners: Cynthia Fee, Mark Teel, Meghan Miller, Melinda Downing, Molly McAuliffe-Hepper, Maggie Hill, Rob Izzett and Lori Nealy.

Friends of the Children of the Klamath Basin invites the community to its annual fundraising program and auction, called Friend Raiser, Thursday, May 19, at 6:30 p.m.

The event is presented by Lithia Ford of Klamath Falls. Party Packs of wine, goodies, and coupons are available for home parties, with or without gift certificates included for take-out meals from Thai Orchid Cafe or Harbor Clubhouse.

Seats and tables for site parties are available at the Collman Dairy Barn, Fable Restaurant, and Running Y Lodge. All must be purchased online at the event site, along with raffle tickets for a $1,250 Holliday Jewelry gift certificate.

Bidding for silent auction items begins online May 12 at 5 p.m. Bidding for live auction items begins online May 19 at noon. Auction items range from unique handcrafted items to dining and travel experiences.

Incoming freshmen at nearly all of Oregon’s public universities will pay more for tuition this fall as schools struggle with inflation and budget deficits and face uncertain enrollment with COVID-19 still lingering.

Rate increases range from 2% to 7% for Oregon residents across the state’s seven public universities.

Oregon Tech has proposed the largest increase, raising annual tuition and fees by 7% or nearly $700 for Oregon residents attending full time and more than $2,000 for out-of-state students.

At every university, student tuition and fees make up more than half of revenue. About a quarter comes from state appropriations and the rest from other sources, according to the Oregon Department of Education. Enrollment among all but one of the state’s public universities – Oregon State – was down in 2021-22 from 2019, before the pandemic.

Students attending Oregon Tech’s campuses in Klamath Falls and Portland might pay 7% more in tuition and fees beginning this fall. Because the increase is above 5%, the change has to be approved by the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission.  Southern Oregon University’s Board of Trustees has not yet received a proposal for 2022-23 tuition.

They’ll meet April 22 to discuss options, according to Joe Mosley, director of community and media relations.

The Board of Directors of EagleRidge High School, an Oregon Nonprofit Corporation, will hold a Board Meeting on Wednesday, April 20, at 4:00 pm at EagleRidge High School, 677 South Seventh Street, Klamath Falls, Oregon, and via Zoom. 

The meeting agenda includes first reading of policies and discussion of building addition and assistant director position.  The Board may also consider other business brought before the board.   

EagleRidge High School was established to create and implement an autonomous, high achieving and equitable small high school in collaboration with the Klamath Falls City School District pursuant to the Oregon Charter School law. The meeting will be conducted in accordance with the Oregon Public Meetings law. 

Around the state of Oregon

Yesterday was Tax Day, the federal deadline for individual tax filing and payments, and the IRS expects to receive tens of millions of last-minute filings electronically and through paper forms.

As of last week, the IRS had received more than 103 million returns for this tax season, and it had issued more than 63 million refunds worth more than $204 billion. For comparison, last year more than 169 million people completed an income tax return by the end of the year.

That probably leaves nearly 40% of this year’s taxpayers still unaccounted for, with many scrambling to submit their documents by Monday. This year will be one of the most challenging for the agency, with its record low staffing numbers.

The IRS workforce is the same size it was in 1970, though the U.S. population has grown exponentially and tax laws have become increasingly complicated.

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Medford police are looking for a man that robbed a Dutch Bros coffee stand on Sunday night at gunpoint. It happened at the Dutch Bros location between South Central Ave. and S Riverside Ave in south Medford.  

Police say the robbery happened at 9:12 pm. The suspect brandished a gun and demanded money. He obtained an undisclosed amount of cash. He fled going north on Central Ave.

Police describe him as a heavy set white male adult, shorter than average height. He was wearing baggy pants that dragged below his shoes. He was wearing a dark jacket with a large tear. He was wearing a mask that was believed to be gray and green.

Medford Police Department says that coffee stand employees should take a moment to go over policies and protocols on what to do during a robbery. Make sure there is as little money as possible in the cash register, and make sure all surveillance cameras are working properly.

Southern Oregon Law Enforcement Makes Public Appeal to Help Locate Missing Teenager

Southern Oregon law enforcement made a public appeal for help locating a 15-year-old girl who left home last week with her cat on a leash – but without her cell phone.

The Winston Police Department says Lillian Blue left her house in Winston, Oregon, on Monday, April 11. She was accompanied by her white and grey cat that had a leash and harness. She did not have her cell phone.

The Winston Police Department is actively investigating Lillian Blue as a missing person. The 15-year-old is 5-foot-2 and 115 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Lillian Blue is asked to contact the Winston Police Department at (541) 679-8706 or (541) 440-4471.

Jackson County Child Exploitation Task Force Investigations Lead to Two Arrests

Southern Oregon Child Exploitation Team (SOCET) joint inter-agency task force investigations led to two separate arrests today on child pornography cases. Both arrests came after months long SOCET investigations into allegations of child exploitation images uploaded from the residences.

The suspects are not connected. These arrests stemmed from last year’s cases, bringing the total number of 2021 SOCET arrests to 28. Out of these cases 24 victims were identified.

Hanson Booking

The first arrest came at 8:00 Monday morning when Jackson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) Patrol deputies arrested Kaleb Scott Hanson, 22, at the 500 block of Meadow Lane in Eagle Point.

SOCET served a search warrant August 10, 2021 after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) that someone had uploaded child exploitation images from the residence. During the warrant, investigators seized digital devices which were forensically examined by the Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Task Force (SOHTCTF), and further SOCET investigations led to his arrest.

Hanson has been charged with two counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse, two counts of second-degree encouraging child sexual abuse, and six counts of encouraging sexual assault of an animal. He is lodged at the Jackson County Jail on $250,000 bail. 

Parnell Warrant

The second arrest came when US Marshals from the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force (PNVOTF) arrested Nickolas James Parnell, 32, of Central Point for 15 counts of first-degree encouraging child sexual abuse.

PNVOTF Marshals took Parnell into custody at the Parole and Probation office in Medford. Parnell is currently on federal probation for possession of child pornography out of the District of Idaho.

SOCET investigators served a warrant at Parnell’s residence November 30, 2021 after receiving a tip from NCMEC that someone had uploaded child exploitation images from the residence. Central Point Police Department (CPPD) assisted with serving the warrant at the 500 block of Briarwood Drive in Central Point.

During the warrant, investigators seized digital devices which were forensically examined by SOHTCTF, and further SOCET investigations led to his arrest. He is lodged at the Jackson County Jail on $250,000 bail.

SOCET is a joint inter-agency task force that started in June of 2020 to combat child exploitation and human trafficking. The task force consists of investigators from JCSO, Oregon State Police, Medford Police Department, Grants Pass Police Department, and Homeland Security Investigations; as well as prosecutors from our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in Jackson and Josephine County. 

Jackson County District Attorney’s office will prosecute both cases. Further information will come from the DA’s office. JCSO Cases 21-3286, 21-4855 Jackson Co. Sheriff’s Office

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President Biden heads to the Pacific Northwest this week.

Biden will be in Portland on Thursday to promote his agenda and the sweeping infrastructure bill he signed late last year.

He will mark Earth Day on Friday in Seattle, pitching a clean energy economy. The White House says Biden will also talk about efforts to lower costs for American families.

We want to keep you informed about COVID-19 in Oregon. Data are provisional and change frequently. For more information, including COVID-19 data by county, visit our dashboard: http://ow.ly/TSMz50ILQky

Note: This report covers the three-day period from April 15 to April 17, 2022.

Screen shot of linked dashboard shows an increase trend in cases and test positivity.    Vaccinations and healthcare trends have plateaued. Please visit healthoregon.org/coronavirus for more.

Yelp is ranking Oregon the most eco-friendly state in the nation.

The website says Oregon got the top spot for having the highest ranking for sustainability mentions in professional, home and local services, as well as in the restaurant and food area. California came in second on the list, with Vermont, Nevada and Washington rounding out the top five.

Police are searching for a group of suspects accused of rampaging through the streets of North Portland on Saturday night, setting fires and breaking windows.

Portland Police report a coffee shop on Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard had windows broken, as did two banks. The suspects also allegedly shot fireworks at the building. Three bus shelters were damaged, and a fire was set in a dumpster. No arrests were made.

With Oregon’s May 2022 primary election one month away, the Secretary of State’s Office wants to make sure voters get the ballots they’re expecting. Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan is inviting Oregon voters to check their registrations at Oregonvotes.gov/myvote.

She says her office staff, “often hear from voters who are confused about Oregon’s closed primaries,” using a quick video to help voters.

Fagan explain that both major political parties in Oregon — Republicans and Democrats — are holding closed primaries, so only voters affiliated with those parties can vote for their candidates in primary elections. 

The primary election winners advance to the general election in November. Fagan advises Oregon voters they can change party affiliation online for voting in this spring’s primary election.  The deadline to change party affiliation before the Oregon’s May election is April 26.

A man who was in an Oregon psychiatric hospital after killing his mother in 2004 is back in custody after escaping during an outing on April 14.

Oregon State Police said Thaddeus Ziemlak, 39, escaped custody from mental hospital personnel during an outing in Eugene. Ziemlak is held at the Oregon State Hospital after killing his mother in 2004. Joyce Ann Ziemlak, 46, was shot twice in the head with a rifle, according to police and court records Thaddeus Ziemlak was spotted Friday morning near Veneta and was later taken back into the custody.

He will be transferred to the state hospital’s Salem campus, according to OSP. Ziemlak was on the loose from 4:23 p.m. Thursday to 10:20 a.m. Friday, according to police.

Portland Man Sentenced to Federal Prison for Stealing Covid-Relief Funds

PORTLAND, Ore.—A Portland man was sentenced to federal prison today for perpetrating a scheme to steal funds intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benjamin Tifekchian, 48, was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison and five years’ supervised release. Tifekchian was also ordered to pay more than $910,000 in restitution, including more than $26,000 to the Small Business Administration (SBA).

According to court documents, in May 2019, Tifekchian incorporated Bencho Jewelry Inc. (Bencho) in the State of Oregon and served as the company’s sole owner and officer. Bencho never had any employees and never generated more than $500 in revenue in any calendar year. 

After Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020 to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tifekchian devised and perpetrated a scheme to defraud the SBA by fraudulently applying for CARES Act-authorized Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans on behalf of Bencho.

In EIDL applications submitted to SBA in April and August 2020, Tifekchian falsely claimed Bencho had generated as much as $758,000 in revenue, had been operating for 20 years, and employed 12 people. SBA denied both applications.

In June 2020, Tifekchian successfully obtained more than $884,000 in PPP funding after falsely claiming Bencho employed 78 people and had an average monthly payroll of $353,698. SBA guaranteed the loan and paid Bank of America, the FDIC-insured loan issuer, more than $26,000 in fees.

Tifekchian used the PPP loan to pay for gambling, vacations, and other personal expenses. Suspecting fraud, Bank of America froze the loan funds, but only after Tifekchian had spent more than $68,000.

On July 13, 2021, a federal grand jury in Portland returned a two-count indictment charging Tifekchian with bank fraud and wire fraud. On January 25, 2022, he pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

U.S. Attorney Scott Erik Asphaug of the District of Oregon made the announcement.

This case was investigated by the FBI, U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), and the SBA Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan W. Bounds is prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

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