by Ann Vileisis, president and conservation chair of Kalmiopsis Audubon Society
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Floras Lake lands, again; your help needed!
Longtime KAS members know that every 4 years or so, Curry County hatches a plan to “do something” with the 500 acres it owns on the south side of Floras Lake. This is the undeveloped waterfront you see across the lake when you walk across the bridge at Boice-Cope County Park. In years past, County Commissioners have plotted secret plans (including for a golf course!) that most people in Langlois/north Curry revile. KAS has been involved every time in fending off these pie-in-the-sky schemes.
This time, as the county once again considers what to do with its Floras Lake lands, we will finally have an open and transparent public process. On April 27, at the Langlois Lion’s Club, the Curry County Development Department will hold a workshop to gather input from citizens about what to do with these lands. It will be crucial for KAS members to participate proactively in this workshop to advocate for a conservation option.
The format of this meeting will be different than in the past. The workshop will present information and options and then provide an opportunity for discussion-based public input. That means you’ll be invited to sit around a table and discuss options with fellow citizens, and each table will put forth its view with the help of student-moderators from the Pacific High government class. (Students will also be selling hotdogs and chips as a class fundraiser/ dinner option for a $3 donation.) The end goal of the workshop will be to give the Curry County Development Department a clear idea of what the community wants —and to inform future direction by the County Commissioners, who will have the final say.
HOW YOU CAN HELP: Please attend the Community Workshop in on Thursday April 27, 5:15-8pm, Langlois Lions Club
(Directions: The Lions Club is located on Floras Lake Loop Rd, just west from Hwy 101 at the NORTH entrance to the loop. Turn west from Hwy 101 at mile marker 288.9, and the Lions Club is on the right in about 100 yards.)
Please read additional background below to learn more. Come prepared to learn, discuss, and to advocate for a conservation option –preferably adding the county lands to Floras Lake State Natural Area. Don’t hesitate to give me a call if you have any questions.
BACKGROUND: Because Curry County has faced a chronic financial crisis, newly elected Commissioners tend to consider the land at Floras Lake as a kind of untapped treasure chest that could provide needed revenue if only developed properly. When new Commissioner Court Boice set forth his 18-point plan for Curry County back in January, he included: “Sell or trade 500 residential acres between Floras Lake and Cape Blanco Airport for development or timber harvesting.” When I went to talk to him about it, he told me it might be a good place for hundreds of units of “affordable housing.” Of course, that idea doesn’t take into account the actual nature of the land.
Most of the county lands at Floras Lake are poorly suited for development owing to a prevalence of wetlands, poor to no septic feasibility, lack of road access, and zoning constraints remaining from the lands were first platted into tiny lots for the ill-conceived town site of Lakeport more than 100 years ago.
Meanwhile, Floras Lake has high amenity, recreation, and conservation values, and has become a very important place for people who live in the Langlois area. The scenic lake and the county’s Boice-Cope Park’s access point to the beach are places where local people recreate on a regular basis. They take walks, walk dogs, run into neighbors, and enjoy looking for birds and beautiful sunsets. It’s a critical part of what makes that community special.
Consider these many public values of the county land: It has a high amenity value, providing backdrop for the spectacular scenic view from the lake’s north shore-- raising property values in the lake neighborhood and thereby indirectly contributing to the Curry County tax base. It also serves to make the Boice-Cope County Park campground a desirable destination for tourists. Visitors would not be drawn to a lake with houses all around it or it there were clear-cuts across the way. In other words, the undeveloped property contributes economic value as it is –something that has not been sufficiently recognized by those who would develop it into something different.
It has high recreation values. Floras Lake is a renowned windsurfing and kite-boarding destination, partly owning to the scenic backdrop provided by the county lands. The county land is directly adjacent to Floras Lake State Park’s great biking and hiking trails –and, in fact, one popular (albeit unofficial) trail route crosses the county property on an old road. The lake is also a destination for bird watchers and is included on the Oregon Coast Birding Trail. In the winter, beautiful Tundra swans can be seen on the lake. In fall, recreational mushroom hunters enjoy this area.
Finally, it has high conservation values, especially in relation to Floras Lake and Floras Lake State Natural Area. It buffers the lake from agriculture, serving to reduce polluted runoff. The lake and its tributaries host threatened SONCC coho salmon. The lake provides sheltered wintering habitat for waterfowl and a home for bald eagles. The property also contains spruce wetlands, which have been identified by the Oregon Conservation Strategy as an important but rare coastal habitat type, and may well contain habitat for western lilies, a federally endangered plant that exists in Floras Lake State Natural Area. The nearby beach is also critical habitat for nesting snowy plovers, which could be harmed by development that would invariably attract more predators.
In addition, it has high cultural values for local tribes, though I am not proficient to elaborate on that topic.
Because of all these values, there has been strong local opposition to several previous, ill-considered proposals for development. Each time Curry County has spent a lot of time, effort, and money on plans that would never work and has created a lot of distrust because the county commissioners/economic development heads disregarded local citizens’ input and operated in ways that were not transparent.
It’s time for Curry County to think pragmatically and to move ahead with a plan that will build upon the most valuable qualities of these lands and that will also enjoy community support.
That was the conclusion of the county’s Real Property Task Force (RPTF), a group of citizens that met over the course of several months and considered this property in fall 2015. The RPTF recommended that the county move forward to consider the possibility of a land swap with state parks that would add the county land to the Floras Lake Natural area, keep the south lakeshore parcel block in an undeveloped state, and potentially provide the county with a different property with potential to generate revenue. In my opinion, this is the best solution.
Because of the way that taxing districts work, one challenge for generating revenue from the county property is that proceeds from any outright sale would need to be distributed among taxing districts, which would not provide much financial benefit for Curry County. That’s why the strategy of considering a land swap could be most practical and most likely to result in the county’s goal of generating revenue (from a different parcel) while at the same time safeguarding the values of the Floras Lake lands. Moreover, if the county officially requests help from the state, there would be the opportunity to tap state staff and expertise to consider the possibilities. The county’s development staff does not have the time and expertise to fully investigate such options.
However, the county has not yet moved forward with the RPTF recommendation and instead continues to consider other ideas for short-term revenue.
As mentioned, the county may consider some residential housing development–though there would be many constraints to overcome —or “forest management” for this area. While there may be some harvestable timber, it was the opinion of a citizens’ Natural Resource Committee (convened even before the RPTF) that its quality is marginal and that the only way to generate revenue would be to clear cut. But opening up the existing forest would also make the lands highly susceptible to gorse, which could create new problems. Lands cleared around the airport now have huge gorse infestations (gorse seeds came in with the gravels used to build the airport) and have remained a continual management challenge for OPRD and private landowners in the vicinity. Creating a shaded forest canopy is one of few ways to reliably control gorse, and we’re only now getting trees large enough to shade and kill gorse present in pockets on the county lands. I’d hoped there might be the option to manage the forest for carbon sequestration, but the parcel is considered too small to pencil out for that purpose.
At this point, we need to change the conversation, once and for all, and press the county toward a conservation solution.
All the scenic, recreation, conservation, and cultural attributes of these lands should make the parcel attractive for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department to consider a land swap (or even an outright purchase).
The previous county economic development director indicated that she had reached out to The Nature Conservancy for help with the RPTF’s land-swap idea, but then instead, right before leaving in 2015, she put forth a proposal for a land swap with a private developer who wanted to develop a golf course or residential tract! Given strong opposition from North County residents and recognizing the blatantly poor public process, the previous group of county commissioners (Smith, Brown, and Huxley) wisely directed county staff to drop that private swap proposal and to re-convene the RPTF to reconsider prospects in a more thorough and transparent manner. That’s a reason the County Community Development Department is hosting this public workshop now.
It would be best to stay on track, follow up on the RPTF’s recommendation, and to resolve this matter to save everyone –citizens and county staff— from wasting so much time and effort, again and again and again. If ultimately a land swap with the state is not feasible, the county should investigate a use that legitimately builds on the land’s most significant and cherished values instead of diminishing them. Please come to the meeting on April 27 to help support a conservation option for Floras Lake lands. I look forward to seeing you there!
KAS brings “Poo Poo Project” to South Coast
Everyone is familiar with the brown “outhouses” located at Forest Service campgrounds and trailheads. Unfortunately, the ventilation pipes on these vault toilets can become death traps for cavity nesting birds and wildlife. In spring when birds seek protected places to build nests, they can fly into the dark chimney holes, get stuck in the vaults, and never get out. To prevent this potential wildlife entrapment problem in our local area, Kalmiopsis Audubon partnered with the Teton Raptor Project to donate 13 “Poo Poo screens” for installation on the ventilation pipes of local vault toilets in Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest campgrounds. So far the Forest Service has installed the protective screens on restrooms vents in campgrounds up the Chetco and Elk Rivers, and more will be installed this summer up the Winchuck. Hopefully this small but important stewardship action will help cavity nesting birds in our National Forest.
Proposed Veva Stansell Botanical Area
With the 20-year mineral withdrawal protection now in place, we have resumed working on our project to designate the Veva Stansell Botanical Area up Hunter Creek in honor of renowned and beloved local botanist Veva Stansell. The proposed botanical area encompasses an outlier of serpentine soils that creates conditions for unique coastal botany, including the westernmost Jeffrey pine savannahs and also the rare Veva’s erigeron (Erigeron Stanselliae), a diminutive and lovely white flower named in Veva’s honor. This winter a small team of us got together to take stock and to discuss ways to advance the project. We invite you to join a field trip this spring to get to know the area and its lovely wildflowers better. You can also go online to learn more at our special website: http://vevasbotanicalarea.blogspot.com. Finally, we’d like to keep adding signatures to our online petition –so if you’ve not yet added your name, PLEASE go to the website and sign on. You can help by asking local friends to sign, too.
Elliott State Forest
For those concerned about the future of the Elliott State Forest, this winter has been a bit of a roller coaster. Last year, much to the dismay of conservationists, the State Land Board (SLB) – made up of the Governor, the Treasurer, and the Secretary of State-- put the forest up for sale in order to obtain revenue for the Common School Fund. In response to a huge grassroots call-in effort, the SLB deferred action on the one bid it received, but then voted to proceed with the sale in February! Only because Governor Kate Brown, at the 11th hour, pressed hard to give the legislature time to craft a new deal do we now have hope of keeping the Elliott in public ownership. Currently, the legislature has crafted a bill—SB 847—to create a Trust Land Transfer Program that would allow transfer of lands with limited potential as School Fund assets to other public bodies better positioned to manage lands for public benefit.
The Elliott contains some of the last remaining old growth in Oregon’s coast range and is home to threatened Marbled murrelets, spotted owls, and other wildlife. It provides clean water and habitat for salmon and serves as a massive carbon sink.
If you are interested to support keeping the Elliott State Forest in public ownership, you may consider contacting our state-level elected officials:
Rep. David Brock Smith 503-986-1401 < Rep.DavidBrockSmith@oregonlegislature.gov>
Senator Jeff Kruse 503-986-1701 < Sen.JeffKruse@state.or.us>
You can also call state Land Board members, who are expected to make the final decision in early May:
State Treasurer Tobias Read: (503) 378-4329
Governor Kate Brown: (503) 378-4582
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson: (503) 986-1523
Governor Brown is on board (thank her); Richardon is opposed and needs to be reminded that citizens support public ownership; and Read is regarded as the swing vote. Encourage him to join the governor in keeping the Elliott in public ownership.
As many of you will remember, in 2013, 40 local people were sickened and many went to the hospital suffering from the effects of herbicides sprayed over their homes in Cedar Valley, near the Rogue River. Similar health emergencies have resulted from aerial spraying in 11 Oregon counties, according to the organization Beyond Toxics, with symptoms including nausea, rashes, diarrhea, headaches, asthma attacks, bloody noses, and dead pets. Rockaway Beach's water supply was polluted after aerial spraying nearby.
The timber industry, whose workers comprise less than 3 percent of the state's labor force, has repeatedly inflicted this kind of damage on people, land, and water --not to mention the industry's own workers who are victimized. Recognizing these and other problems affecting fish in our streams, the U.S. Forest Service stopped herbicide spraying thirty years ago.
After uproar following the Cedar Valley poisonings, the legislature adopted nominal rules that increased the state's no-spray buffer requirement from zero, which it had been, to 60 feet around homes and schools—about 30 steps. But for that buffer requirement to have any effectiveness at all, one would have to assume that the wind does not blow in Oregon.
Now there's a chance for some minor improvement of this egregious situation. Oregon Senate Bill 892, Advanced Notice for Aerial Timber Sprays and Pesticide Reporting, would take the small step of requiring industrial sprayers to notify the public five days ahead of spraying and to notify the Department of Forestry within 5 days afterwards with specific information about what was sprayed. A hearing on the bill was held in Salem on March 22.
KAS submitted testimony contending that rural Oregonians should be given the courtesy of knowing when it's unsafe to be in their own yards, and that school teachers should know when it's hazardous for children to go outdoors for recess on school playgrounds. Waiting for 5 days to know what you’ve been sprayed with is still not adequate, but at least it’s better than never getting that information at all, as has been the case.
Condor Recovery Update, by Gary Maschmeyer
In 2003 members of the Yurok Tribe began talking about the possibility of reintroducing California Condors in the Klamath, California area. In 2008 they hired biologists Chris West and Tiana Williams (both members of the Yurok Tribe) to determine if condors could safely be released. The biologists studied several safety concerns, including the use of pesticides and herbicides in the area, hunters using lead for ammunition, overhead powerlines, availability of sufficient food, and proper habitat for roosting, nesting, and raising young birds, and determined safe release was possible.
As covered in the last Storm Petrel, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and 13 other agencies have now joined forces with the Yurok Tribe to work on the goal of condor reintroduction, and in January, there were 5 public meeting to allow the public to voice concerns.
I attended the meeting at the Yurok Tribal Headquarters in Klamath. There were surprisingly few comments from the private property owners whose properties could possibly be affected by Endangered Species Act restrictions. In fact, some volunteered to help by donating livestock carcasses for the newly released condors.
After the meeting I spoke with Tiana Williams. She told me they hope to release the first six condors in 2019. If all six do well during the first year, then six more would be released the following year. If those condors do well, then six more would be released –and so on, each year for ten years. A total of 60 condors could be released by the year 2028.
During the first “scoping” period, Ann sent comments from Kalmiopsis Audubon supporting the reintroduction effort. There will be more opportunity for public input later this year, and we’ll keep you posted about this exciting project that may bring back a remarkable bird to our region.
Last updated April 22, 2017