Rogue Valley News, Tuesday 3/16 – Weather Conditions this Spring Could Impact Upcoming Fire Season in The Rogue Valley, Judge Will Allow Victims to Appear at Trial in Grants Pass

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Today- Areas of frost before 8am. Otherwise, mostly cloudy through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 52. Light and variable wind.

Wednesday- Areas of frost before 8am. Otherwise, partly sunny, with a high near 59. Calm wind becoming south southeast 5 to 8 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday- Rain. High near 55. South southeast wind 16 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.

Friday- Rain, mainly after 11am. Snow level 2700 feet rising to 3300 feet in the afternoon. High near 51. Chance of precipitation is 80%.

Saturday- A slight chance of rain and snow before 11am, then a chance of rain. Snow level 2000 feet rising to 3000 feet in the afternoon. Partly sunny, with a high near 52.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Coronavirus-update-1-4.jpg

Oregon reports 178 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 2 new deaths

There are two new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,324. The Oregon Health Authority reported 178 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 159,788.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (1), Benton (5), Clackamas (20), Coos (13), Curry (1), Deschutes (2), Douglas (5), Harney (1), Jackson (22), Jefferson (2), Josephine (3), Klamath (11), Lane (10), Lincoln (1), Linn (1), Marion (7), Multnomah (36), Polk (4), Washington (32) and Yamhill (1).

Vaccinations in Oregon

Today, OHA reported that 24,077 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 13,529 doses were administered on March 14 and 10,548 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on March 14.

Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).

Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 1,346,090 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. To date, 1,642,505 doses of vaccine have been delivered to sites across Oregon.

These data are preliminary and subject to change. OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.

You will still need to wear a mask and socially distance after getting the vaccine

ROGUE VALLEY HEADLINES:

Weather Conditions this Spring Could Impact Upcoming Fire Season  in The Rogue Valley

If the Rogue Valley continues to get consistent rain and snow throughout the spring, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said we could experience a mild fire season this upcoming summer.

“The more rain we get in the springtime and the summer, the farther it pushes out those big fires for our fire season. We’ll still see those small fires in the beginning like we always do, but they’ll be easier to catch because the fuels aren’t as dry as it usually is later in the summer,” said Natalie Weber, Public Information Officer for ODF.

Last year from the middle of February to late April, Weber said there were 57 fires within the district. She said that’s why fire season was declared on May 1, the earliest fire season in the region since 1964.

“We were already at those dry conditions where fires were starting and spreading (last spring,) and it was a pretty regular occurrence. Sometimes we had multiple fires in a day and we typically don’t see that until late May, June, early July,” Weber said.

This year, Weber said there has been one significant fire that was around 2 acres in the Selma area. She said that was because the area hadn’t seen rain in a while, and the wind conditions were strong.

“When that fire started, it spread really quickly because it had that wind driving it as a force, but so far we really haven’t had any other fires besides that. That goes back to the fact that we’ve been getting consistent rain and we’ve been seeing that consistent moisture. The fuels aren’t dried out,” Weber said.

Even though conditions are looking good so far, she said it’s important not to burn on your property if it is not a burn day. Even if it is a burn day, Weber said to make sure the pile is completely done burning, and continue to check it for days to come. She said ODF has responded to burn piles that have restarted on their own sometimes two weeks after they were initially put out.

“It’s something that people need to be aware of, especially if you’re at work, you don’t want a fire starting on your property,” Weber said.

She noted that now’s the time to do necessary work to get your property ready for fire season. She said that means cleaning up vegetation around your property and making sure your firewood is away from your house as well as any flammable materials.

“All the work that people do now, leading up to fire season, will really help us protect their homes should there be a wildfire in their area,” Weber said.

Judge Will Allow Victims to Appear at Matthew Fanelli Trial in Grants Pass

Judge Galli approved the District Attorney’s request to allow victims to appear for a trial for the case of Oregon vs. Matthew Fanelli.

Fanelli was in court today but was restrained because of a recent weapon discovery on Fanelli within the jail and previous threats he has made to jail staff, according to the court.

Deputies say they believe Fanelli intended to use the weapon to harm Josephine County District Attorney Lisa Turner or other deputies. During the hearing, Turner says Fanelli made it clear who he perceives as a threat.

“I am requesting the court not wait until a situation arises and then a colloquy occurs, because then we might get to the point where the defendant refuses to come out of his jail cell, the safety of the jail is now an issue because he won’t come out, they’re in a situation where they have to do a cell extraction on something that we know now is a possibility,” Turner said.

Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Galli says if Fanelli acts up in court, he’ll be given warnings. If any misbehavior continues, Galli says Fanelli will removed from the courtroom and the hearings and trials will proceed without him.

“You’re going to be at a disadvantage if that happens because you’re not going to be able to then communicate with your attorney as the trial develops,” Galli said.

Fanelli is facing a total of 28 charges, including 14 counts of Attempted Aggravated Murder with a Firearm. Fanelli is accused of leading police on a long chase in Feb. 2019. According to police, Fanelli had attempted to steal a truck in Douglas County and shot at the driver as it started to drive away. According to court documents, Fanelli was interviewed and admitted to this. Fanelli also admitted in the interview that he drove southbound on I-5 where he shot at law enforcement and a semi-truck cab.

Fanelli also admitted he attempted to steal a vehicle from a man who was checking his mail at his residence. Fanelli stated he pointed his gun at the man and told him to give him the keys to his vehicle. Fanelli stated the man grabbed the end of this gun and Fanelli shot the man 4-5 times in the torso. Fanelli stated he drug the man into a ditch and proceeded to assault the man’s wife when she got out of their vehicle and would not give him the keys to their car. Fanelli stated he pistol-whipped the female and grabbed her by the hair and drug her towards the ditch. Additionally, Fanelli sprayed her with her own pepper spray.

Fanelli waived his right to a jury trial on March 1, 2021 and will instead have a bench trial before Judge Matthew Galli, scheduled to begin on April 12, 2021.

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

April is Proclaimed as Arbor Month in Oregon

Gov. Brown has declared April as Arbor Month in Oregon, extending the tree fun from one week to four. This gives communities more time for tree plantings like this pre-pandemic planting in Portland's Roseway Park Blocks.

Gov. Brown has declared April as Arbor Month in Oregon, extending the tree fun from one week to four. This gives communities more time for tree plantings like this pre-pandemic planting in Portland’s Roseway Park Blocks.

The first week in April was just not enough time to show how much Oregonians appreciate trees. So Gov. Kate Brown has proclaimed all of April as Oregon Arbor Month, allowing plenty of time for all the tree-related activities and commemorative plantings people want. 

“I appreciate Governor Brown declaring April 2021 as Oregon Arbor Month in recognition of the essential role trees play in the lives of Oregonians,” said Oregon State Forester Peter Daugherty. “There has long been a broad understanding of the economic and environmental benefits of our forestlands, but this proclamation helps highlight the equally vital social benefits that both rural and urban forests provide to the people of Oregon.”

Kristin Ramstad, manager of the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program, points out that Oregon is a big state with a varied climate. “Tree plantings in the western part of the state are usually finishing up in early April while in many parts of eastern Oregon or at higher elevations, late April is more suitable for holding a tree planting. Extending the focus on trees through the entire month allows activities in all parts of the state to be included,” she says.”

The non-profit organization Oregon Community Trees supported the move to a month-long recognition of trees. OCT President Samantha Wolf says the COVID-19 pandemic forced many towns and cities in 2020 to cancel in-person tree celebrations. “This year, people got creative and are planning many tree-related activities throughout the month, either online or with proper social distancing.”

One example Wolf cites is making a pop-up arboretum. “This is where temporary plaques are tied to public trees to identify them and inform passersby of their environmental benefits. Self-guided walking tours using flyers or phone apps are also popular in cities which have conducted inventories of their street or yard trees,” she says.

“April is also National Poetry Month, so some places are considering holding contests for poems on the theme of trees. Others are encouraging tree-related art contests,” Wolf adds.

Ramstad says Arbor Month is the perfect time to reflect on the contribution trees make – to our physical, mental and emotional health, to the livability of our communities, to our safety, the quality and quantity of our air and water, and to our economy.

Trees have always been a vital part of the lives of people in the Pacific Northwest, says Ramstad.  “Long before white settlers arrived, trees were woven into the fabric of Native American life, providing food, clothing, materials for houses and basket-making, canoes, firewood and other necessities,” she says.

Later, when settlers from the east made the long, difficult journey to the Oregon territory, seeds and cuttings of fruit and nut trees were among the precious items they carried in their wagons. And although settlers cleared trees for farming and for wood to build their expanding cities, they also planted trees where they did not naturally grow, such as on the Columbia Plateau, and in the new towns and cities.

“Trees are becoming even more important to the two-thirds of Oregonians who live in cities and towns as climate change raises concerns about dangerous levels of summer heat in urban areas,” says Ramstad. “Many communities are recognizing the value of tree canopy in helping moderate temperatures both with their shade as well as by putting into the air water that they pull from the soil. And with extreme weather events considered more likely, trees are being recognized for the role they play in slowing rainfall runoff and erosion.”

Ironically, climate change is putting trees at greater risk even as we need their services more than ever. “With milder winters, a wider range of tree pests may establish themselves in Oregon. And longer periods of hot, dry weather are stressing and even killing trees, especially those from summer-rainfall regions,” says Ramstad.

“April is usually when people should start giving 10 to 15 gallons of water once a week to young trees three years and under,” she says. “But even older, non-native trees can benefit in summer from occasional deep waterings. They’ll be less stressed and grow faster.”                                                                    

The proclamation was the result of more than a year of collaboration between the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Urban and Community Forestry Program and Oregon Community Trees, a non-profit organization that promotes healthy urban and community forests. Read the full text of the proclamation here. – Oregon Dept. of Forestry

American Rescue Plan Brings Additional Health Coverage Savings to Oregonians

OHIM logo

The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden last week, incorporates big savings for Americans who buy health coverage through the Marketplace. The changes expand access to premium tax credits and increase the amount of premium tax credits that people can receive.

The new guidelines removes the upper income limit to qualify for financial assistance, and also sets more strict limits on the most health insurance premiums can cost in relation to gross income.

For example, a 55-year-old individual living in La Grande who earns $63,800 per year previously would not have qualified for premium tax credits. Under the new guidelines, this individual will qualify for approximately $442 in monthly savings, lowering a Silver level plan from $876 per month to $434 per month.

People already receiving premium tax credits will also see savings. These savings are retroactive to Jan. 1. Enrollees will see these savings when they file taxes next year, or can take advantage as early as April 1 by logging in to HealthCare.gov and updating their application for 2021 coverage.

The American Rescue Plan also provides assistance to anyone who has been eligible for or has received unemployment insurance benefits for at least one week in 2021. The new guidelines disregard any household income of more than 133 percent of the federal poverty level for anyone in this group for the purposes of calculating financial assistance. This means anyone whose income is too high to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s Medicaid program, will be eligibile for substantial savings on both monthly premiums and other out-of-pocket costs.

People who are interested to see their estimated costs under the new guidelines can visit OregonHealthCare.gov/WindowShop after April 1. The tool will be updated to reflect the extra savings that people in Oregon should expect from the Marketplace.

“The health coverage savings that Oregonians will see from the American Rescue Plan are significant,” said Chiqui Flowers, administrator of the Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace. “Previous rules made health coverage unaffordable and out of reach for some Oregonians. The new eligibility rules change that for many people.”

To apply, go to OregonHealthCare.gov after April 1 and answer a few Oregon-specific questions to get to the right application. You can also search the “get help” directory on OregonHealthCare.gov to find an insurance agent or community partner organization to help complete the application and enroll. Insurance agents and community partners provide local, one-on-one assistance at no charge to the client. This help is available virtually and over the phone, and in person following safety protocols.

The Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace, a part of state government, helps people get health insurance when they do not have job-based coverage, and do not qualify for the Oregon Health Plan or another program. The Marketplace is the state-level partner to HealthCare.gov, and a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services (DCBS). For more information, go to OregonHealthCare.gov. – Oregon Dept. of Consumer & Business Services

Virtual Career Fair Creates Opportunities for Students in Oregon

JA of Oregon & SW Washington

Many events have gone virtual this past year because of COVID regulations and career fairs are no exception.

Junior Achievement of Oregon and Southwest Washington is hosting a self-guided virtual program for middle and high school students.

They have the opportunity to explore careers and continue their education through webinars and resources from more than 50 organizations.

Students will be able to submit questions and browse various career possibilities tailored to their skills and interests, even health care companies working hard during the pandemic.

“There are companies working hard every day to make the world a better place and make COVID go away,” Senior Vice President of Operations, Barbara Smith, said. “We have quite a few representations from the health services and those companies are working really hard, so things are going to get better and you will have a future and this is the way to help you best prepare for that future,” she added.

JA Inspire Virtual is more than a career fair; it brings together the business community and local schools and is designed to help launch middle school students into their future—high school, college, and careers beyond. The program consists of three segments: (1) pre-event curriculum that may be teacher-led in the classroom, delivered via a remote learning session, or completed by students using the self-guided curriculum; (2) virtual career expo experience; and (3) post-event debrief.

During the virtual experience, students attend webinars and presentations, explore career booths, and interact with career speakers. VFairs, the online interactive platform used to host the JA Inspire Virtual career expo, can be used either in place of a face-to-face JA Inspire event or as an enhancement following a face-to-face event. The JA Inspire experience can be configured in a variety of ways, depending on JA Area and local school district preferences.

The 2021 JA Inspire Virtual expo will launch on March 10 and students will have access to the platform through June 10. See the Program Brief for general information.

Questions? Please contact bsmith@ja-pdx.org or call 971-255-4944. – More INFO: https://jaorswwa.org/ja-inspire

To Protect Threatened Shorebirds, Respect Nesting Areas March 15 — Sep. 15

Beachgoers are urged to help recovery efforts of the threatened western snowy plover by staying on the wet sand at snowy plover beaches during nesting season, March 15 – Sep. 15. Beachgoers will see signs and ropes that identify sensitive plover nesting areas and list restrictions to protect the small shorebirds during this period.

Plover beaches remain open to foot and equestrian traffic on wet, packed sand throughout nesting season.  All other recreation on plover beaches is off limits on both wet and dry sand, include walking your dog (even on a leash), driving a vehicle, riding a bicycle, camping, fires and flying kites or drones.

“We’re making great strides in reversing the downward slide of this species,” said Cindy Burns, Siuslaw National Forest wildlife biologist. “But it takes all of us, so we urge people to do their part to understand nesting season rules and to share the beach this spring and summer.”

These small birds nest on open sand along Oregon’s beaches. Nests, and especially chicks, are well-camouflaged. During nesting season, human disturbances can flush adult plovers away from their nests as they attempt to defend their young from the perceived predator. Left alone too long, or too often, eggs or chicks can die from exposure, predators or people.

Recreation restrictions occur in designated plover management areas: small stretches of beach along the entire coastline where plovers are nesting or could potentially nest. These areas collectively comprise about 40 miles of Oregon’s 362 miles of shoreline.

“Visitors will have access to hundreds of miles of beaches that have no seasonal restrictions,” said Laurel Hillmann, Ocean Shore Specialist for Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD). “By planning your trip, you can enjoy the coast and help keep these special birds safe.”

Detailed maps can be found on the Oregon State Parks website (oregon.gov/plovers) and on the Siuslaw National Forest website (go.usa.gov/xEh2h). Visitors to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area (ODNRA) can review go.usa.gov/xdwYQ to identify unrestricted recreation areas and information on riding motor vehicles on the sand.

Winter storms and high tides have pushed plover to the north side of Sand Lake in Tillamook County. Visitors to Sand Lake Recreation Area may see roped off areas near the lake’s inlet to protect nests, and may encounter plovers on the beach. Formal restrictions are not yet in place here, but beachgoers are encouraged to protect these birds by limiting recreation activities to wet sand areas, avoiding nesting areas and keeping dogs on leash.

Background on plover protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed western snowy plovers as a threatened species in 1993, when officials counted only 55 breeding adults. Since, the numbers of breeding adults have steadily increased, from 149 in 2009 to 549 in 2020.

Several land managers oversee beach activity for plover protection, primarily the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and OPRD.

Habitat loss from invasive plants — as well as human disturbances, including litter and discarded food scraps that attract predators — had contributed to the birds’ decline. The Oregon Dunes Restoration Collaborative, saveoregondunes.org, is working with land managers to develop and implement a restoration strategy as well as raise public awareness about the need to restore the dunes ecosystem for snowy plover, rare plants and animals, and the unique recreation opportunities offered here. — Judge Will Allow Victims to Appear at Matthew Fanelli Trial in Grants Pass

Majority Of Oregon’s Jail Deaths Last Year Were People With Disabilities

Subpar medical care, lack of suicide precautions led to many of the 10  deaths in Oregon jails in 2020, report finds - oregonlive.com

The report from Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) was an investigation into the ten identified jail deaths that occurred in the state in 2020. As Oregon’s disability watchdog group, DRO has a unique authority to obtain confidential records related to disability.

The biggest finding in the report, according to author Liz Reetz, is that nine of the ten people they identified who died last year in Oregon jails had a disability. And while the overall jail population decreased significantly because of custody reductions during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says, the number of jail deaths was higher than in recent years.

“This is really about thinking through systemic problems and systemic failures that’s causing this really high rate of death in Oregon,” Reetz says.

DRO works with the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association on policy recommendations, including issues like improved suicide protocols. Reetz says there are three main policy areas they plan to focus on during Oregon’s legislative session in hopes of reducing future deaths.

Those priorities include: producing adequate health care standards and effective suicide protocols for jails; strengthening jail oversight; and preventing improper incarceration of people with disabilities by investing in community-based physical and mental health services.

Jackson County Jail Commander Josh Aldrich acknowledges that jail populations have decreased without a similar drop in deaths, but he says their jail undergoes annual oversight from citizen evaluators, the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, U.S. Marshals and the federal Bureau of Prisons.

“There’s a lot of oversight and I feel like the report doesn’t give that credit, but again, I know it’s talking about all the jails,” Aldrich says.

He says their ability to address people with mental illness in Jackson County would be improved with continued crisis intervention training of staff and a more modern facility, like the jail expansion the sheriff’s office lobbied for in 2020.

Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber declined an interview about the report, citing the potential for future litigation surrounding the in-custody death at the Klamath County jail last year.

The DRO report was inspired by Booked and Buried, a 2019 investigative series into jail deaths in Washington and Oregon from JPR partners, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Northwest News Network.

“We need to be keeping these people safe,” says Reetz with Disability Rights Oregon. “They don’t give up their right to adequate health care just because they ended up in the jail.”

Albany Company Building Robots!

Agility Robotics, a small company of 42 employees in Albany, makes bipedal robots, with arms and legs, and has sold the first two to Ford Motor Company. It’s just the beginning for the implications of how robots like these will be used.

The first time you see it, it’s legitimately hard to look away from. You focus on the movements — the bird-like legs, the humanness — but also the machinery of it. “Digit”, as Agility’s newest version is named, has become somewhat of a regular sight as engineers take them out on test walks around Albany to encounter real world obstacles. They take them in urban settings, down the city’s sidewalks and past businesses, smiling pedestrians and crossing streets with cars, as well as natural settings in the woods or through grass and down trails.

“For these robots to be part of society and, be the sort of thing that you want to have around, you need to feel comfortable with it outside of your peripheral vision. It has to be completely safe and it has to feel completely safe.”

Jonathan Hurst has a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Melon University. He teaches robotics at Oregon State University in nearby Corvallis and founded Agility Robotics years ago. Early versions of his machines were just two legs, getting them to move correctly and sense steps or a slope, took years to get right. Then arms were added.

“The robot can now lift a 40 pound package. It can catch itself when it falls and reorient to get back up,” Hurst said. 

Now, things are significantly ramping up at Agility. Our insatiable demand for online shopping is the fuel. Market pressure is huge to get that stuff to you fast and free. But the cost to pay and insure drivers is even bigger. There are at least 16 U.S. companies working on driverless fleets that would drop costs dramatically. 

“So once you’ve got an autonomous vehicle that does a lot of it on the road, but now you’re stuck at the curb, right? And in order to really provide that service that people want, you need to then get from the curb to the doorstep. And that’s where we solve this problem.”

On Agility’s YouTube page they have a mock-up for an ad for a real fleet of autonomous vehicles from their partnership with Ford. It was the first company to buy two of Agility’s robots last year. They’re using one robot to test a package delivery service, and another to practice moving assembly parts in their warehouse.

In the ad you can watch below, it shows the van’s back hatch opening up, Digit then folds out, gets the correct box, maneuvers around objects on a sidewalk and front porch steps, and even can remember where you want your packages to be left and then could send a delivery confirmation.

Digit costs $250,000. Agility will build 40 this year. As they scale up production and work out the technology, Hurst says eventually the price will drop to about $70,000. Several other unnamed Fortune 100 companies, that’s the biggest of the big, have bought these, mostly for warehouse automation.

“So many jobs are basically robot jobs, they’re the dull, dirty, dangerous kinds of things that are injury-prone and incredibly repetitive. That’s how you can then really increase the value of the jobs that the people get to do.”

Finally, I know what you’re thinking because as I watched some of their clips testing the robots in real settings, I thought it too, imagining a hundred of these in lock-step together: With all the good things robots will do, there’s certainly an equal amount of bad and deadly uses as well. Just like drones in war time, or any movie set in the future.

Hurst said this, “People don’t worry so much about, you know, industrial robot arms. They worry about our robot, but that’s because it’s anthropomorphic, it looks like a person. From the very founding of the company, we’ve said there will be no weapons on our robot, offensive or defensive, in every way that we have control as a company, contractually, who we sell to, what kind of support we can provide for robots over time and things like that. We can control those sorts of things. And that’s pretty important to us. We’re building robots to improve quality of life and to make the world a better place.

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