Klamath Basin News, Thursday, 12/22 – Christmas Shoppers Causing Heavy Traffic; KF City Counselman Dan Tofell Retires

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Monday, December 22, 2022

Klamath Basin Weather Today A slight chance of snow before 1pm, then snow, possibly mixed with rain. Snow level rising to 4800 feet. Steady temperature around 34. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Total daytime snow accumulation of less than a half inch. Overnight, rain and snow. Snow level 6600 feet. Low around 33. Chance of precipitation is 90%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Friday A 30% chance of rain, mainly before 10am. Snow level 7000 feet. Cloudy, with a high near 43. South southeast wind around 6 mph. Friday night, mostly cloudy, with a low around 32. East wind 6 to 8 mph.
Saturday A 30% chance of rain after 10am. Snow level 6700 feet rising to 8800 feet. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 44. Overnight a 30% chance of rain with a low of 33.
Sunday, Christmas Day Mostly cloudy, with a high near 48. Overnight a slight chance of rain after 10pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 33.
Monday Rain likely, mainly after 4pm. Snow level 7100 feet. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 48.

See Road Camera Views

Lake of the Woods   
Doak Mtn.   
Hiway 97 at Chemult   
Hiway 140 at  Bly       
Hiway 97 at GreenSprings Dr.            
Hiway 97 at LaPine

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On Monday, December 19, 2022, at approximately 7:35 PM, the Oregon State Police responded to a multi-vehicle crash at the intersection of Hwy 66 and Clover Creek Rd, in Klamath County.

The preliminary investigation indicated a maroon 2006 Ford Escape, operated by Elijah Nathanial Allen (26) of White City, was stopped at the intersection of Hwy 66 and Clover Creek Road. The driver of the Ford Escape pulled out in front of silver a 2012 Dodge Ram 2500, operated by Michael Hormann (68) of Klamath Falls, that was traveling westbound on Hwy 66. A side impact collision occurred on the drivers side of the Ford Escape.

The driver of the Escape, Mr. Allen, was pronounced deceased at the scene due to injuries from the crash. The occupants of the Dodge Ram were uninjured. The roadway was closed for approximately 7 hours while the investigation was conducted.

Klamath County Public Health officials have announced a flu vaccine clinic at the agency’s facility, 3314 Vandenberg Road. The clinic will run from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28.

“We understand that community members have had difficulty obtaining flu vaccination this fall,” said Public Health Director Jennifer Little. “We hope this helps meet some of the local need.”

Only flu vaccine will be available. There will be no COVID-19 doses. Insurance will be billed, but no one will be turned away for inability to pay for services.

After serving 11 years on the Klamath Falls City Council, Councilor Dan Tofell is officially retiring.

The announcement was made at the final City Council meeting for the year Monday, Dec. 19.  Tofell, who is also a former Klamath Falls Police Department chief, thanked the city staff for their service during his term.

The city, Tofell said, is in great shape financially and said the incoming council members will have Councilor Phil Studenberg said he has known Tofell for 40-some years and is grateful for all he has done to serve the community.

Councilor Phill Studenberg said he has known Tofell for 40-some years and is grateful for all he has done to serve the community.

With farewells to familiar faces came greetings of some new names at the City Council table. The final votes were canvassed and representatives on council for Ward Districts 3, 4 and 5 were announced to Stephen Hedlund, Abbie McClung and Kelsey Mueller-Wendt, respectively.

However, the hope of finally filling all five seats at the table were short lived. At the start of the previous weekend, Gov. Kate Brown announced her decision to appoint Hedlund to Klamath County’s District Court to fill the role of Judge Dan Bunch following his retirement from judiciary office at the end of the year.

Product manufacturers and service center operators of psilocybin are now prohibited from operating in unincorporated Klamath County areas.

During their Tuesday, Dec. 20 meeting, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners signed ordinance 95 which comes as a result of county voters approving Measure 18-126 during the general election held Nov. 8. The measure asked voters to decide if manufacturing and service centers should be forbidden in unincorporated areas of the county. It passed with 67.07% of the vote.

During the business meeting the board also signed and approved a new fine schedule for animal control and justice court.

Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber disclosed that Sept. 6, the board of commissioners approved revisions to the Klamath County Animal Services Ordinance which went into effect Dec. 5.

Also during the meeting was the purchase of a subscription to TextMyGov software.

TextMyGov uses smart texting technology to communicate with citizens allowing local government agencies to answer questions, send links to websites and provide details on garbage pickup, utility payments and events. Citizens can easily report issues to any department and can ask specific guided questions.

The service will free up limited staff time to work on other projects that need to be completed.

The small community of Sprague River has lost access to propane which for many residents is their only source of heat.

The only store in the rural Klamath County community that sells propane is the Squaw Flat Store and their pump stopped working about a month ago, leaving many without a way to heat their homes, and in some cases cook their food.

Management at Squaw Flat says they’ve reached out to AmeriGas about fixing their pump multiple times. They say AmeriGas responded recently saying they could not send someone for another two weeks.

Residents have to drive 25 miles to Chiloquin to get propane, and that is not possible for many in the community.

The National Park Service said it has a new post-wildfire coordinator.

Jennifer Gibson of Oregon will work with parks across the country to manage the impacts of wildfires.  She said here climate change is making wildfires larger and more severe.

In one example, Crater Lake used to be a sleepy fire park but now 40 percent of the park has burned in last 10 years.

Gibson has previously served as chief of resources and fire at Crater Lake and will continue to serve based there.

In honor of the 65th anniversary of Ponderosa Middle School, the PTO is asking the Klamath County community to sponsor 65 ponderosa pine trees.

According to a press release, Ponderosa opened its doors in 1957. In the 65 years since, the school has taught students to “stand tall, branch out and grow — both academically and socially.”

Between now and Feb. 18, 2023, the Ponderosa PTO is seeking sponsors for the trees. According to the PTO’s website for the Ponderosa Plant Project (Pondopto.wixsite.com/plantproject), sponsorship is “just $2 a week — less than the cost of your favorite drive-thru drink. Or split the cost with another family.”

After the trees have been sponsored, according to the press release, the Ponderosa students, their families and the faculty will plant the trees along Klamath’s urban trails.

To sponsor a tree, go to Pondopto.wixsite.com/plantproject.

The Oregon Department of Transportation, in association with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, awarded the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office grant funds for holiday traffic safety during 2022-23 year totaling $15,000.

Be advised, the grants are being used to increase traffic enforcement with focused patrols for Distracted Driving, Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII), Occupant Protection (Safety Belts), Pedestrian Safety and Speed Enforcement during specified events.

This holiday season, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is partnering with the KCSO to share the message about the dangers of drunk driving. NHTSA and KCSO want all drivers to remember this lifesaving message: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.

Drivers will see deputies working together with law enforcement partners beginning Thursday, Dec. 15 through Jan. 1, 2023, to take drunk drivers off the roads.

Bonanza Junior/Senior High Principal Jordan Osborn and Counselor Andy Davis spent Thursday evening shopping, purchasing gifts and food for more than 60 families in their community.

This is the sixth year Osborn and Davis have worked together to provide food boxes and gifts to students and families in their school communities. They started the project in Chiloquin, and continued the holiday tradition when they both began at Bonanza four years ago.

The past few years, Bonanza Schools have worked with Bonanza Cares, a non-profit community organization, that provided for 26 families at the elementary and high schools. Bonanza High’s leadership team, with the help of more than $2,000 in donations, was able to provide clothing, gifts, food, and vouchers to Fred Meyer to an additional 60 Bonanza and Gearhart families.

Students and staff throughout the Klamath County School District this week teamed up with community organizations and each other to make the holidays a bit brighter – and yummier – for their communities. Several schools hosted food drives or coin drives to benefit local food banks and organizations.

On Wednesday, Henley Student Council members put together the gifts for hospice patients and caroled at long-term care facilities in Klamath Falls.

The RIP City Riders of Klamath Falls gave a big gift this week. Or, actually, several hundred gifts.

As a chapter, the Riders collected $5,500 to purchase toys for the Toys for Tots drive. The money came from sponsors including Wal-Mart, Ed Staub & Sons, Avangrid, Black Bear Diner and the chapter members.

On Thursday, Dec. 15, the Riders went shopping at Wal-Mart where they spent the entire amount on toys. They then donated the toys at the distribution site for Toys for Tots.

Four recreational places, one access pass.  That option is available at the start of the year for four area federal sites.

Lava Beds National Monument, Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area have an agreement today to honor each other’s annual access passes starting January 1, 2023.

Over the weekend,  the group of federal sites said, “Due to overwhelming public support, Lava Beds National Monument, in conjunction with Crater Lake National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, will be implementing an agreement to honor each other’s annual passes beginning January 1, 2023.”

This move allows visitors to access all four parks with a single annual pass from one of the four parks, offering visitors the convenience of unlimited entry for one year with a single valid park pass to access these four National Park Service sites.

The group aligned their parks’ annual passes’ costs to be the same as the current Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, and Whiskeytown annual park pass cost ($55), resulting in a $10 increase to the current $45 Lava Beds pass.

The Klamath County Economic Development Association (KCEDA) has announced they will be hosting their 2nd Annual Economic Summit.

This special event takes place on January 9th, 2023 at the Ross Ragland Theater, from 8:30-11:30AM. Admission is $10 at the door, giving attendees access to the full program, in addition to coffee and other refreshments.

This year’s Economic Summit consists of several presentations from various experts from throughout the state and region, as well offers attendees a chance to participate in a Q&A session with a panel of community stakeholders representing different industries and interests within Klamath County. Panelists and presenters will be discussing important topics related to local healthcare, education, energy, finance, agriculture, real estate, and more throughout the day.

Commissioner Kelley Minty has been working with KCEDA to develop a compelling program that would explore several aspects of the county’s economy. Minty spoke about the return of the event, saying, “Having an event like this helps our community be more informed on the state of the economy and gives people an opportunity to share their thoughts about where it is headed. I think it is really valuable for the area’s stakeholders to come together and ‘touch base’ during the summit, because it reinforces a spirit of collaboration locally.” KCEDA CEO,

Randy Cox, added to Minty’s comments, stating, “There is economic momentum going on in the Klamath County. I believe it is important to talk about our economy with the community, and the summit provides an excellent opportunity to keep people informed on a wide range of relevant topics impacting our region.”

Cox will also be providing a presentation at the event, detailing KCEDA’s work over the past year and discussing active development projects the organization is presently involved with. The Economic Summit for 2023 is sponsored by the following businesses: Pacific Crest Federal Credit Union, Coldwell Banker Holman Premier Realty, Avista Utilities, Gathering Grounds, and Molatore, Scroggin, Peterson & Co.

As the 77th annual United Way Community Campaign approaches raising 70% of its $507,000 goal, the search for a new executive director to replace its current director, Leroy Cabral, continues.

Campaign officials hope to announce positive results at United Way’s annual meeting of the board of directors and supporters, scheduled for Jan. 24, 2023.

Efforts to hire a new executive director are gearing up, according to search committee Chairperson Janet Thede.

The position is now open and applicants are encouraged to send their resume and cover letter to the United Way at uwkb@unitedwayoftheklamathbasin.org or to its office located at 136 N. Third St. in Klamath Falls, OR 97601. A job description of the position is available by contacting United Way.

US Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program helps secure 7,500 acres for people and wildlife in Southern Oregon

Rising dramatically above Upper Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon, Spence Mountain is home to oak and ponderosa pine woodlands, some of the rarest habitats in the state, and more than 47 miles of biking trails. 

As of this month, it’s protected forever. That’s thanks to the Trust for Public Land, Klamath County, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and $4.6 million in federal funding from the U.S Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, administered through ODF.

“The Forest Legacy Program helps Oregon protect working forests, drinking water sources and habitat for fish and wildlife.” said Kelley Beamer, executive director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts. “Spence Mountain adds a gem to our network of protected lands, creating expanded public access through hiking and biking trails. This project is a win for communities, the local economy, and conservation.”

Spence Mountain is now publicly owned by Klamath County. Its protection will have major economic and ecological benefits for the community. The 7,500-acre community forest will provide outdoor access for community members and recreationists. It will also preserve habitat for important species and supporting sustainable timber harvest. 

Spence Mountain is just one example of the impact of the Forest Legacy Program, a federal program funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Program is a partnership between the state of Oregon through the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the U.S. Forest Service. Their aim is to protect forestlands for drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, recreational opportunities, and management strategies that support local economies through sustainable timber harvest. 

In Oregon, the program has helped preserve iconic landscapes like the East Moraine Community Forest in Wallowa County, Arch Cape Community Forest in Clatsop County and Gilchrist State Forest in northern Klamath County. 

Funds to buy Spence Mountain also came from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Chiloquin’s Emma Friedman last month earned the title as the champion of the United States Hunter Jumper Association’s Quiz Challenge Nationals.

The title for Friedman, 15, the daughter of Jacky and Ned Friedman, came a year after she placed second overall. The University of Findlay’s James L. Child, Jr. English Equestrian Center in Findlay, Ohio, hosted the competition.

Friedman said she felt the pressure to improve and bring her best effort forward this year after last year’s second-place finish. According to an interview with USHJA, because she knew where she needed to improve, Friedman said she took extra time to make flashcards, listen to podcasts and watch YouTube videos on areas that needed improving to prepare for Nationals. Her extra study efforts paid off, as she received the highest practicum score of 99.5 out of 100.

As the winner of HQC Nationals, Friedman received a Charles Owen helmet, a SmartPak gift card, an internship with Spy Coast Farm in Lexington, Ky., and a $2,000 training and education grant from the USHJA Foundation.

Staff at the Ella Redkey Pool here in Klamath Falls say they are very excited and with good reason: The fundraising efforts for a pool upgrade are just $4,000 away from the goal of $150,000.

The Ella Redkey pool is going to get its first upgrade in more than two decades. Not since 1999 when the water slide was put in has the local pool staff planned a remodel this massive.

Funded completely by grants and private donations, Ella Redkey’s Capital Campaign began in October 2021. The fundraiser was launched to help finance improvements to the pool area such as a much-needed ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) walkway to allow greater access for all patrons to the pool and bathhouse.

The remodel plan includes enlarging the current plaza and creating a walkway from the new pavilion to the pool deck. Improvements to the locker rooms also are part of the plan as is a replacement of the existing water slide.

So far, $95,000 has been raised through grants and $51,000 has come from donations by individuals and local businesses. The Klamath Falls City Council has committed to match the Capital Campaign’s goal of $150,000.

Donations can be made directly to the Capital Campaign at the Ella Redkey by cash, check or credit/debit card. 

Around the state of Oregon

Forecasted Ice Storm Threatens Pacific Northwest With Significant Power Outages And Disruptive Holiday Travel

An arctic blast in the Pacific Northwest is about to mix with a strong Pacific storm later Thursday and Friday, bringing a recipe for a significant ice storm across northwestern Oregon and western Washington, including Portland and the Willamette Valley, threatening to grind holiday travel to a halt and knock out power to thousands.

Winter Storm Warnings are in effect for the greater Portland and Willamette Valley area for a myriad of winter woes, including freezing rain accretions of 0.2 to 0.4 inches, wind gusts to 55 mph near the Columbia River Gorge, and wind chills dipping as low as zero.

Ice Storm Warnings stretch into the Eugene and Corvallis areas for even greater freezing rain accretions up to 0.5 inches – considered potentially ‘crippling’ levels, while western Washington and Seattle remain in a Winter Storm Watch for possible snow and freezing rain issues of their own.  

Low temperatures in eastern Washington dropped to near or below zero Thursday morning with single digits in eastern Oregon as arctic air continues to pool into the region, with temperatures in northern Oregon and western Washington set in the teens and 20s.

However, the next weather system heading toward the Northwest late Thursday and into Friday is a much milder storm rolling in off the Pacific Ocean – a more traditional wintertime event for the region bringing air that would typically push temperatures well into the 40s, if not the 50s.

With cold air currently locked at the surface, precipitation will likely begin as snow. As the battle between the warm air intrusion and the stubborn freezing air at the surface takes place over several hours, precipitation will change to a potentially prolonged period of freezing rain, with significant accretions possible.

Freezing rain is possible across much of the coastal Pacific Northwest, starting late Thursday night and lasting through Friday afternoon or evening. It could even last into Saturday in the Columbia Gorge and eastern Willamette Valley with ice accretions in the Gorge reaching near 1 inch. 

The Portland area and into southwestern Washington could see significant ice accretions ranging from one-tenth to one-half inch, with lighter but still potentially impactful glazes expected in the Seattle area and into northwestern Washington.

Ice accretions of one-quarter to one-half inch are considered “disruptive,” with numerous power outages and some tree damage expected as roads become very slick. Once accretions hit one-half inch or more, a potentially crippling event is underway, creating widespread power outages and tree falls, and dangerous travel conditions. 

Travel along the Interstate 5 corridor from central Oregon all the way to the Canadian border will be challenging during the ice storm, with icy glazes on road surfaces sapping any hope for traction. 

Both Seattle and Portland’s airports could see significant weather-related delays during and immediately after ice storms as planes become covered in icy glazes and airports frantically work through busy deicing operations, adding to nationwide air travel woes this week with more storms in the East.

Eventually, the warm air will win the battle, and freezing rain will gradually turn to plain rain late Friday as temperatures warm into the 40s.

Once the cold air scours out, the weather pattern will flip, with above-average high temperatures reaching into the upper 40s and 50s Christmas weekend and the following week with rising snow levels and heavy rains.

ODOT urges drivers to stay off roads during winter storm

Officials are urging drivers to limit all non-essential travel when Arctic air blasts the region on Thursday.

Motorists Should Be Prepared For Icy Roads

With snow, ice and record-cold temperatures expected for much of Oregon, AAA Oregon/Idaho urges drivers to be prepared for winter driving conditions. The National Weather Service says the forecast looks increasingly wintry for even lower elevations of northwest Oregon as cold air moves in ahead of the Christmas weekend, just in time for one of the busiest holiday travel days of the year.

“Make sure your vehicle is ready for cold weather, and that you’re prepared to drive on slick, icy roads,” says AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs Director Marie Dodds. Find tips and helpful advice at AAA.com/winterprep. Also check http://tripccheck.com before traveling.

Home Values in Oregon Soared During the Pandemic

The housing market has been red hot during the pandemic, with home prices hitting record highs up until a few months ago.

More recently, surging mortgage rates have put some pressure on the housing market, slowing the climb in housing prices. That could be good news for buyers, though home prices remain considerably higher than they were in 2019 after surging in the two years since.

Nationwide, the average median home value rose 17% between 2019 and 2021, according to data from the 2021 and 2019 American Community Surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. During that time, median household incomes grew a far smaller 6%. That gap has made homes, especially in some areas, more unaffordable.

Oregon is one of the 23 states where home values rose faster than average during the COVID-19 pandemic. The typical home in the state was worth $422,700 in 2021, compared to $354,600 in 2019. The 19.2% increase ranks as the 12th highest among states.

As was the case nationwide, home value growth outpaced income growth in Oregon. The typical household in the state earned $71,562 in 2021, up just 6.7% from $67,058 in 2019.

Population growth can fuel housing demand and push prices up – and over the same period, Oregon’s population grew by 0.7%.

Governor Brown Forgives Unpaid Traffic Tickets In Oregon

Governor Kate Brown issued an order Wednesday that forgives uncollected court fines and fees associated with certain traffic violation cases that resulted in solely debt-based driver’s license suspensions.

The Governor’s office said this removes the burdens associated with a state statute that disproportionately affected low-income Oregonians.

In 2020, Governor Brown signed into law House Bill 4210 which prohibited license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic fines. However, it left existing nonpayment-related license suspensions in place. Governor Brown’s action Wednesday, forgave that debt blocking many people from being able to lawfully drive.

The inability to pay a traffic fine should not deprive a person of the ability to lawfully drive to work, school, health care appointments, or other locations to meet their daily needs,” Governor Brown said in a news release. “We know that suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic fines is bad public policy — it is inequitable, ineffective, and makes it harder for low-income Oregonians to get ahead. My action today will help alleviate the burden of legacy driver’s license suspensions imposed under a statutory scheme that the legislature has since overhauled.

Governor Brown’s order affects only those people who were sanctioned in traffic violation cases over two years ago, prior to the effective date of HB 4210. The order expressly excludes misdemeanor or felony traffic offense cases, and it does not forgive money owed to victims. Beyond nonpayment-related sanctions, none of the affected individuals have suspended licenses due to public safety-related sanctions.

According to the Governor’s office, the vast majority of the fines and fees forgiven by the Governor’s order are considered uncollectible debt. Their collections data show that most people who can afford to pay their violation fines do so right away, but for cases like those included in the Governor’s order, collections rates drop to roughly 10% in the second year of delinquency, and to 4% or lower in year three and beyond.

U.S. Attorney’s Office Collects Nearly $33 Million in Civil and Criminal Actions in Fiscal Year 2022

PORTLAND, Ore.—The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon announced today that it has collected nearly $33 million in criminal and civil actions and restitution payments in Fiscal Year 2022. Of this amount, $10.2 million was collected in criminal actions and $4.6 million was collected in civil actions.

The District of Oregon worked with other U.S. Attorney’s Offices and components of the Department of Justice to collect an additional $1 million in criminal and civil cases pursued jointly by these offices and $16.9 million in asset forfeiture actions. 

Forfeited assets deposited into the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund are used to restore funds to crime victims and for a variety of law enforcement purposes.

“The District of Oregon’s Financial Litigation Program staff deliver a valuable service to victims of crime, as well as a valuable return to the American people by holding accountable those who have profited from crimes committed in Oregon and beyond, and by collecting on other actions resulting in civil settlements,” said Katie de Villiers, Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Division. “We take seriously our obligation to make crime victims as financially whole as possible, whether those victims are private individuals, large companies, or government agencies. Our annual collections figure is a testament to our team’s daily hard work and unwavering pursuit of justice.”

An example of the district’s collection efforts was in U.S. v. Kiraz et al. In early October 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it had secured a full restitution payment totaling more than $600,000 from the former operators of two Portland-area strip clubs who were convicted at trial in 2016 for conspiring to defraud the IRS and Oregon Department of Revenue. On September 23, 2022, the Clerk of the Court for the District of Oregon received a payment of $608,217 from David, George, and Daniel Kiraz. The Kirazes had previously paid less than ten percent of their original $657,243 restitution order.

A second example is in U.S. v. Idaho Power Company. In late August 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced it had reached an agreement with the Idaho Power Company, a Boise, Idaho-based utility, wherein the company would pay $1.5 million to settle allegations by the U.S. relating to the May 2014 Powerline and August 2015 Lime Hill fires in Baker County, Oregon. Soon after, the company paid the $1.5 million settlement in full.

U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, along with the department’s litigating divisions, are responsible for enforcing and collecting civil and criminal debts owed to the U.S. and criminal debts owed to federal crime victims. The law requires defendants to pay restitution to victims of certain federal crimes who have suffered a physical injury or financial loss. While restitution is paid to the victim, criminal fines and felony assessments are paid to the department’s Crime Victims Fund, which distributes the funds collected to federal and state victim compensation and victim assistance programs.

The District of Oregon’s Financial Litigation Program (FLP) is part of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Asset Recovery and Money Laundering Division. The mission and goal of FLP is to fairly achieve the maximum recovery of civil and criminal debts consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and Justice Department policies. FLP attorneys and support staff work with individuals subject to restitution orders to bring closure for crime victims and recoup losses incurred by United States taxpayers.

Survey Finds More Than A Million Acres With Dead Fir Trees In Oregon

The Pacific Northwest Region Aerial Survey is cataloging tree decline. Photo: Daniel DePinte/USFS

Climate change, droughts, invasive insects and other factors have had an impact on Oregon’s vast forests for years, but recent research reveals a proliferating issue.

Environmental journalism nonprofit Columbia Insight first reported on the data collection effort from the Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service, which found that 1.1 million acres of fir trees in Oregon had died off in 2022 alone.

“This survey is actually one of the longest running in the nation of its kind,” Christine Buhl, Forest Entomologist at ODF says “It’s a forest health survey that we fly over the entire state of Oregon that’s forested to collect data on insects, diseases, abiotic stressors that are damaging or killing trees.”

According to Buhl, forest health is almost always impacted by several, complex factors, rather than one singular cause.

“The primary thing we think of damaging these trees is climate change that is causing ongoing hot drought,” she said. “And it’s not only that it’s really hot and really dry, but either long duration droughts — they’re happening frequently — and the timing of them is very important as well. Early in the season when trees are waking up and need a lot of moisture, it’s really dry out there.”

The entomologist listed other primary causes such as root diseases that break down trees’ root systems, and the invasive Balsam Woolly Adelgid insect that continues to stress trees. After the trees are already hindered by these primary agents, secondary agents like the fir engraver beetle can cause the trees to die-off.

These factors have been reported by entomologists for a long time, but ODF hasn’t seen fir tree mortality of this magnitude since the agency was founded in 1911.

“In our history of collecting data, I believe that we have not detected 1 million acres of true fir mortality ever,” Buhl said. “However, we have had peaks in mortality across the landscape in Oregon of combined tree species from multiple agents that have been comparable to some of our worst wildfire seasons.”

USFS and ODF’s latest Forest Health Highlights in Oregon review did say that the heat dome of 2021 was novel, and could have lasting effects on the state’s forests. It may be too late to reverse those effects, but Buhl says strategies like thinning defective trees or planting tree species in their preferred habitat could help.

“On the other hand, there’s not a lot we can do on the larger scale with climate change. We’re reaching the point where there’s not really much we can do to turn back and we just need to try and slow the progress of climate change,” Buhl said.

Oregon Department of Emergency Management Warning

Enjoy the holidays safely with fire prevention:

🕯️ Keep candles 12 inches away from other objects.

🕯️ Use a sturdy candle holder that won’t tip over.

🕯️ Don’t leave burning candles unattended. Blow them out before leaving or going to bed.

🕯️ Consider using flameless, battery-operated candles.

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Six new electronic message signs on northbound Interstate 5 will help keep travelers informed on changing conditions and help regulate speeds on the highest summit on the Interstate 5 corridor.

The signs are located between the Oregon-California border and Ashland, and will be live by January 1, 2023.

Three of the six new signs can show drivers a legally-enforceable lower speed limit. Computers will automatically adjust speed limits displayed on the electronic, black-on-white speed signs based on weather and pavement conditions on the summit. The computers gather information from sensors that can measure factors like road surface traction, humidity, air temperature and visibility. 

When conditions improve, speed limits will be automatically raised again.

The variable speed limit signs are regulatory, meaning Oregon State Police can ticket drivers for going over the displayed speed limit. The new electronic signs will replace the existing static speed limit signs, to avoid confusion.

In addition to the three variable speed signs, there are two dynamic “curve warning” signs. They show drivers their speed as they approach two sharp curves near the Mt Ashland exit and a railroad trestle. The electronic curve warming signs are similar to ones on I-5 at the Myrtle Creek curves.

The sixth new sign, a variable electronic message sign at the summit, will be used to update drivers on conditions or hazards ahead. They’ll also help inform ODOT staff and emergency responders about such incidents.

Travelers can also use tripcheck.com for the latest road conditions.

Oregon Coast To Hold ‘Whale Watch Week’ In Person Again For The First Time Since 2019

Oregon State Parks will host Whale Watch Week in person along the Oregon Coast Dec. 28 – Jan. 1. — Previous Whale Watching events were canceled during the pandemic since 2019.

Every year thousands of Gray whales migrate south through Oregon’s waters at the end of December, and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) invites visitors to the coast to see their journey.

Trained volunteers will be stationed at most of the 17 sites to help visitors spot whales, share information and answer questions from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. The sites are some of the best places to watch for whales on the Oregon Coast.

“We really enjoy getting folks out to the coast for Whale Watch Week,” OPRD Park Ranger Peter McBride said. “It’s something that Oregon State Parks has been doing for more than 40 years now, and we’re really glad to be able to bring it back in person,” he said.

A map of volunteer-staffed sites is available online on the official event webpage: https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=thingstodo.dsp_whaleWatching

An estimated 19,000 Gray whales are expected to swim past Oregon’s shores over the next several weeks as part of their annual migration south to the warm calving lagoons near Baja, Mexico. The end of December is the peak time for their migration; roughly 30 whales pass by per hour.

The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Visitors to the center can enjoy interactive whale exhibits and take in the panoramic ocean views. Binoculars are provided. Rangers from Oregon State Parks will also be on hand to answer questions about the whales.

All Whale Watch Week visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, to bring binoculars and to follow beach safety guidelines such as remaining out of fenced areas, knowing the tide schedule and keeping an eye on the surf at all times. Go to https://visittheoregoncoast.com/beach-safety/ for a list of safety tips.

For more information about coast parks and campgrounds, visit http://oregonstateparks.org

AAA Holiday Travel Forecast: Expect Busy Roads and Crowded Airports

AAA projects 112.7 million Americans (33.8% of the population) will travel for the Christmas and New Year holidays. This is up 3.3% from 2021 and closing in on pre-pandemic numbers.

About 1.6 million Oregonians will pack their sleighs for a holiday trip. 2022 is expected to be the third-busiest year for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000, only trailing 2019 and 2018.

While about 90% of travelers will drive to their holiday destinations, air travel is seeing a jump this year, up 14% compared to 2021. The holiday travel period is defined as Friday, December. 23 through Monday, January 2.

“With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays, many are taking long weekends to celebrate the holidays. And with hybrid work schedules, we’re seeing more flexibility with the days people are traveling because they can work remotely at their destinations,” says Doreen Loofburrow, senior vice president of travel for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

“Despite roller-coaster gas prices and a bumpy year for flights, people are ready to wrap up the year with a holiday trip. This will be one of the busiest times for holiday travel in the last two decades. Travelers should expect busy roads and crowded airports this holiday season,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho.

Peak traffic expected Dec. 23, 27, 28 and Jan. 2 — Travelers can expect the busiest roads on Dec. 23, 27 and 28 and on Jan. 2. Delays will be the longest in the afternoons and evenings, especially in urban areas, as travelers mix with commuters. Some metro areas across the U.S. could see more than double the delays versus typical drive times, and larger urban areas could experience three times the normal delays.

“Knowing the busiest drive times can help you avoid the stress of being stuck in stop-and-go traffic,” says Dodds.

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