Rogue Valley News, Wednesday 7/28 – Fire Danger Restrictions Increase Across Southern Oregon, Missing 17-Year-Old Pacific Crest Trail Hiker Found, Bear Roaming Near Phoenix

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Excessive Heat Warning in effect from July 29, 11:00 AM PDT until July 30, 11:00 PM PDT

Today– Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 99. Calm wind becoming north northwest around 6 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday– A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 2pm. Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 103. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph in the afternoon.
Friday– Sunny and hot, with a high near 105. Calm wind.
Saturday– Partly sunny and hot, with a high near 98.
Sunday– Mostly sunny and hot, with a high near 97.

LOCAL HEADLINES:

Fire Danger Restrictions Increase Across Southern Oregon

Federal agencies in Southern Oregon are heightening fire danger restrictions on public lands in anticipation of continued exceptional heat and dryness after this week’s brief reprieve.

On state-protected lands, southwest Oregon has been at the highest, “Extreme” level since earlier this month. The state also banned all campfires east of I-5 last week. That said, federal lands function separately from their state-managed neighbors, and the individual agencies are now heightening their own restrictions.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest announced Monday that it will increase fire restrictions starting Wednesday, due to the high temperatures and conditions that are “dry and prone to both human-caused and naturally-caused fires.” This includes a ban on campfires, even in designated pits, within the national forest.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Medford District also decided to increase the fire danger level on public lands effective Wednesday, banning campfires in the district, which includes Hyatt Lake Campground.

Missing 17-Year-Old Pacific Crest Trail Hiker Found

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that a 17-year-old hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has been found.

17-year-old Elijah Manns was last seen by his father hiking north at the Brown Mountain shelter in southern Oregon on July 25, and the two had plans to meet up again at Highway 140 in the Fish Lake area.

Search and Rescue teams from both Jackson and Klamath counties started searching for Manns on Monday night, continuing into Tuesday.

According to JCSO, an Oregon Department of Forestry Type 3 helitack crew spotted Manns on Tuesday afternoon, and rescuers were able to help reunite him with his father.

“When another helicopter wasn’t available to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in its search for a missing hiker, our helitack crew jumped into action,” ODF said. “Within 15 minutes, they had located him! ODF is always ready to help our partner agencies however we can, and we’re so thankful to be able to assist in this happy outcome!”

JCSO thanked the ODF crew for its help in the search mission.

“The crew of five firefighters plus a pilot typically get dropped off at fires in remote locations and help with recon missions. Today they assisted with the Search and Rescue mission,” the agency said.

There were ten Jackson County search volunteers and at least four from Klamath County conducting ground and mounted searches for Manns.

Bear Roaming Near Phoenix

Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies responded on Tuesday to reports of a black bear seen roaming the streets of Phoenix.

According to Phoenix Police chief Derek Bowker, the first reports started coming in around 10 a.m. of a bear seen at the southern end of town. Several responding officers worked to corral the bear, directing him toward the Bear Creek Greenway.

Nearby Phoenix Elementary School and a daycare center were temporarily placed on lockdown during the initial response.

By 11 a.m., the bear had settled in near Bear Creek behind the Phoenix Plaza Civic Center in an area of brambles and trees. Bowker said that at that point, officers had not attempted to use sedatives or tranquilizers to incapacitate the animal.

Though officers succeeded in moving the bear out of the town proper, Bowker said that the bear’s location was a “bad spot” because he was across the water from responding agencies.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also responded, and Bowker said that they were working to decide what to do with the bear.

ODFW states that the bear was unlikely to leave its current proximity to the populated area with so much activity around, so they intended to draw down the response in order to give the animal a chance to make its escape later in the day. The agency did not indicate that they intended to tranquilize or euthanize the animal.

Black bears make frequent appearances in Ashland, where they’re often drawn to unsecured trash cans. They’re less common in the central areas of Phoenix or Medford, though there are plenty of sightings on the outskirts. Wildlife officials sometimes decide to euthanize bears and other predators if they seem overly comfortable or habituated to human surroundings.

AROUND the STATE of OREGON

WILDFIRE UPDATES:

BOOTLEG FIRE:

The Bootleg Fire has destroyed more than 400 structures and 340 vehicles since it began three weeks ago, officials said Tuesday. The blaze has grown to 410,731 acres and remains at 53% contained, according to an Inciweb update.

The Bootleg Fire has destroyed 161 residences and 247 outbuildings.

Cooling temperatures and the likelihood of isolated showers through Wednesday are expected to help the fight. But aggressive fire behavior is expected to return later in the week as temperatures rebound and rise, according to Inciweb.

“We will continue operations with a focus on the safety of the community and our firefighters,” said incident Commander Norm McDonald. “We’re continuing with community and agency partners to suppress the fire as effectively as possible to protect timber, ranchlands and other local values.”

JACK FIRE:

The Jack fire is currently at 21,881 acres with 59 percent containment. The fire is burning in leaf litter, timber understory and brush. Steep, rugged terrain continues to be a challenge for fire operations causing some areas to be inaccessible. North of Hwy 138, firefighters continue to mop up and patrol operations to maintain fire activity within control lines.

Crews south of Hwy 138, along the east and west flanks, continue to secure control lines by patrolling and mop up. Preparation work will resume on the 4770 road along the east as a contingency plan. On the south end of the fire, firefighters are treating green fuels with water systems. With cooler weather forecasted over the next few days and as conditions allow, burn operations along the southeast flank will be conducted to remove heavy fuels. Please be aware during burn operations smoke may be visible to the public.

ELBOW CREEK FIRE:

The Elbow Creek Fire has burned 22,790 acres and is 38 percent contained. More water tenders are being ordered to assist with mop-up operations. These will arrive through tonight and tomorrow.

The Elbow Creek Drainage continues to be the focus on the fire. Burnout operations on the east side of the creek, that occurred today, are being monitored to make sure lines are secure. Further west, crews are still finding and catching small spot fires.

On the north side of the river, steady development was made on contingency roads, specifically in the northwest corner. Crews will continue to work on the 62 and 6220 roads tomorrow.

A hot spot was discovered and caught on the east branch of Sickfoot Creek on the south side of the Grande Ronde River. Crews also continue to monitor and mop-up the Duckworth Drainage.

In the southwest corner of the fire, hose has been laid around the majority of the fire perimeter and crews will work to strengthen the fire line and mop up.

Wildland fire investigators remain on the river until tomorrow when they will complete their investigation where the fire originated.

BRULER FIRE:

The Bruler Fire did not experience significant fire activity yesterday. Firefighters made steady progress with mop up operations around the perimeter. The helicopter was not used yesterday, as the fire activity remained low. The helicopter remains available for the Bruler Fire today. Containment is now listed at 53%.

Today, firefighters will continue to improve established contingency line on the west side of the Bruler fire. Mop up will continue along the fire perimeter and work on the contingency line will continue for the foreseeable future.

Today marks the final day Northwest Incident Management Team 13 will manage the Bruler Fire. Control of the fire will be transferred to a Type 3 Incident Management Team from the Willamette National Forest. The team will maintain communication with the public through the Bruler Fire Facebook page, Inciweb and through the Sweet Home Ranger Station front desk.

COVID UPDATE:

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Oregon reports 1,032 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 5 new deaths

There are five new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,843.

Oregon Health Authority reported 1,032 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. today, bringing the state total to 216,875.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (3), Benton (14), Clackamas (72), Clatsop (13), Columbia (13), Coos (4), Crook (8), Curry (5), Deschutes (35), Douglas (63), Gilliam (1), Grant (1),  Harney (2), Hood River (4), Jackson (107), Jefferson (19), Josephine (19), Klamath (18), Lake (2), Lane (92), Lincoln (13), Linn (27), Malheur (9), Marion (112), Morrow (4), Multnomah (74), Polk (24), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (112), Union (19), Wallowa (3), Wasco (9), Washington (98) and Yamhill (30). 

“Today’s reported sharp rise in confirmed and presumptive cases and in hospitalizations in Oregon are sobering reminders that the pandemic is not over, especially for Oregonians who remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer. 

“The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold in the past two weeks in Oregon, and it is now estimated to be associated with 80% of the new cases in Oregon. OHA continues to encourage all Oregonians who are eligible to make a plan to get vaccinated as soon as possible. We are also reviewing updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess opportunities for alignment in Oregon based on the increased cases and hospitalizations we are facing here in Oregon.”

OHA recommends universal mask use for all public indoor settings

In response to a large jump in cases and hospitalizations and new national guidance calling for masking measures to prevent the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the Oregon Health Authority today is recommending universal mask use in public indoor settings throughout the state to protect Oregonians from COVID-19.

“Today’s reported sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations in Oregon are sobering reminders that the pandemic is not over, especially for Oregonians who remain unvaccinated,” said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer.

“The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold in the past two weeks in Oregon, and it is now estimated to be associated with 80% of the new cases in Oregon. The use of face masks provides significant protection for individuals who are unvaccinated as well as an additional level protection from a small but known risk of infection by the virus for persons who have already been vaccinated.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are vaccinated with currently available vaccines are protected from the virus and the circulating variants, including the Delta variant that is now seen in the majority of Oregon’s new cases.

OHA’s recommendation aligns with the CDC’s new guidance issued today that everyone, including fully vaccinated persons, wear a mask in public indoor settings. OHA’s recommendation applies statewide, and not just areas with higher infections and high transmission, as cases have increased across the state in recent weeks due to the Delta variant.

OHA is continuing to call on local community and public health leaders, and businesses, to encourage vaccination and masking to prevent new outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.

Oregon PUC Approves Ownership Transfer of Four Klamath River Dams

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved PacifiCorp’s application to transfer ownership of four hydroelectric dams located on the Klamath River to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC). The ownership transfer, which was approved with conditions to keep the PUC informed through the transfer process, includes approximately 8,000 acres of property associated with the dams. 

This decision was required as part of a larger negotiated agreement to decommission and remove the J.C. Boyle, Copco No. 1, Copco No. 2, and Iron Gate dams, known as the Lower Klamath Project, as part of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

The Lower Klamath Project dams were built solely for power generation and are not used for irrigation, flood control, or the safe passage of fish. The Keno and Link River dams, located to the north and not targeted for demolition as part of this agreement, have fish passages and are part of massive irrigation system that straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to more than 300 square miles of farmland.

The KHSA finalized a settlement under the framework of the 2008 Agreement in Principle, supported by Oregon Senate Bill 76 (2009) and was signed in 2010 by 48 parties, including PacifiCorp, the states of Oregon and California, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service, several Native American tribes, among others, and was part of a broader initiative to address resource issues in the Klamath Basin. The KHSA was amended in April 2016 and requires PacifiCorp and the KRRC to seek approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to transfer ownership to KRRC and decommission the four dams. On November 17, 2020, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was announced by PacifiCorp, the States of California and Oregon, the Karuk and Yurok Tribes, and the KRRC that describes how the parties will proceed with implementation of the Amended KHSA and, ultimately, dam removal.

“Our decision to approve the transfer is one step on a long and winding path that will continue through the next phases,” said PUC Chair Megan Decker. “It keeps in motion efforts to restore the Klamath Basin and improve the health of a river vital to indigenous communities and others that depend on it.”

Earlier this month, the California, Idaho and Wyoming utility commissions also approved the transfer of ownership of the Lower Klamath Project from PacifiCorp to KRCC. 

“Given the high expected cost to relicense and continue operating these dams, the likelihood that the dams would generate less energy after relicensing, and the declining cost of alternative power sources, dam removal remains the least costly and risky option for PacifiCorp customers,” added Chair Decker.

PacifiCorp submitted the original application for transfer of ownership of these dams to the PUC in 2010, but the Commission at that time concluded that the decision to transfer the property was premature and should be deferred until closer to the date of the actual transfer.

The PUC Staff report voted on by the Commission can be found at: https://oregonpuc.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=597&meta_id=30037. The official order memorializing this decision will be filed later this week and posted online at: https://apps.puc.state.or.us/edockets/DocketNoLayout.asp?DocketID=16113

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulates customer rates and services of the state’s investor-owned electric, natural gas and telephone utilities, as well as select water companies. The PUC mission is to ensure Oregon utility customers have access to safe, reliable, and high quality utility services at just and reasonable rates, which is accomplished through thorough analysis and independent decision-making conducted in an open and fair process. Oregon Public Utility Commission

Former State Rep. Mike Nearman Pleads Guilty To Official Misconduct For Role In Capitol Breach

Former Oregon state Rep. Mike Nearman pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to a charge of first-degree official misconduct for his role in the Oregon Capitol breach last December. As part of a plea agreement, a charge of second-degree criminal trespass was dismissed.

“I had no intention of harming anyone,” Nearman said during his hearing. “It provided the appearance that I was helping citizens enter the Capitol, so that would make me appear favorable to certain citizen groups…and I don’t support what they did when they entered.”

Judge Cheryl Pellegrini sentenced Nearman to 18 months of bench probation, during which he will be banned from the capitol grounds, 80 hours of community service, $200 in fines and $2,700 in restitution for damage to the Oregon Capitol.

During the hearing, Judge Pellegrini talked about the responsibility that comes with public service.

“Democracy is built on principle that when there’s disagreement, that starts the public discussion and debate. It doesn’t end it,” she said. “That’s the province of tyranny and anarchy. And we’re not that. We’re so much better than that.

Last month, Nearman became the first member of the state House to be expelled in its 160-year history.

Nearman, a Polk County Republican, was seen on security camera video letting violent, far-right protesters into the capitol on Dec. 21. The protesters barged in and sprayed police with chemical irritants. A number of them were armed.

Video emerged in early June showing Nearman choreographing how he would let protesters into the capitol, pinpointing the door he would open for them and disclosing his cellphone number so protesters could text him.

House Speaker Tina Kotek credited riot police, who pushed out the protesters, with preventing a full-scale assault like the one by supporters of former President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Kotek said some officers were visibly injured and shaken.

Tuesday morning, Judge Pellegrini drew clear ties between Nearman’s case and the discussions playing out during the January 6 hearing in Washington, DC. She quoted one of the Capitol police officers who testified.

“He said a thing that just stuck in my mind as I came into work this morning, which is that Democracy is bigger than any person. And it’s bigger than any political party,'” she said. “I think he’s right about that.

Shortly after the hearing, the Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson issued a statement. It read:

This plea and sentencing concludes an embarrassing and disgraceful event in our state’s history. I am thankful that no members of law enforcement, or anyone else were seriously injured as a result of Mr. Nearman’s irresponsible actions. Additionally, I am grateful to the Oregon State Police for their complete and thorough investigation that led to this conviction.

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said Tuesday’s hearing marked a “sad day,” adding the Oregon Capitol “has truly lost its innocence.”

Gov. Brown Signs Clean Energy Bill

Oregon’s clean energy bill, which sets one of the most ambitious timelines in the country for moving to 100% clean electricity sources, was signed by Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday.

“With these policies, we will create jobs in a 21st Century, clean energy economy,” Brown said. “We will reduce carbon emissions. And, we will make sure the economic, environmental and health benefits of our clean energy economy reach all Oregonians, especially those who have been disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution.”

https://www.reneworegon.org/clean_energy_jobs

The legislation lays out a timetable for the state’s two major power companies — Portland General Electric and Pacific Power — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity sold to Oregon consumers. Additionally, it bans the expansion or new construction of power plants that burn fossil fuels and allocates
$50 million in grants for community-based energy projects, among other measures.

The bill requires Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to submit plans to reduce emissions by 80% from a baseline amount by 2030, 90% by 2035 and 100% by 2040.

At least 17 other states and the District of Columbia have already adopted similar goals, according to the Clean Energy States Alliance.

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