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With these pro-active women for us,  there is hope for Klamath Basin
by KBC March 6, 2005

When women in The West congregate with an agenda, remarkable results occur.

March third through the fifth was the annual convention of OWA, Oregon Women for Agriculture, at Eagle Crest Resort near Bend, Oregon.  Fifty women from as far south as Klamath Basin to the Oregon-Washington border attended and shared their current political issues, mostly government-caused issues, that harm agricultural communities. Several agri-business women shared their business success stories. Then they all put their heads together and decided what they can do,  not only to improve their own businesses, but also to deal with governmental regulations that are threatening to destroy their businesses and their way of life.

Gerry Ottosen
One of the founders and second president of the organization, Gerry Ottosen from Junction City, explained that OWA was created in 1969 when the government and city dwellers decided that the grass seed farmers must not burn their fields because the smell bothered them. 

"When field burning became an issue, when certain people wanted a ban on burning grass fields, OWA went on a public information push to explain why it is necessary to burn fields at the end of grass seed harvest," Ottosen said.  "The straw does not decompose even when plowed under the earth. Burning not only gets rid of the waste  product of grass seed production, but it also significantly increases the next year's harvest because the fires kill organisms that attack the grass."

Thanks to these relentless, common-sense women who came together over 35 years ago, the grass seed farmers are still burning their fields. And when the men at the port went on strike and the wheat from the fields was not getting shipped, the women showed up on the docks with their brooms. Their wheat got shipped.

These same women are supporting the Klamath irrigator's website. In 2001 Jo McIntyre, the current OWA Vice-President, not only wrote stories supporting the Klamath farmers and ranchers, but she also came to see first hand what was happening to our communities. She discovered the irrigators website KBC, www.klamathbasincrisis.org , and participated in the discussion forum where the Bucket Brigade, tractor rally, and pro-active headgate events were being discussed and in some cases planned. She asked KBC's manager to give a presentation about the history and current services provided by the website, and the women's group has chosen to again financially contribute to KBC's efforts in providing constant Klamath Basin water news, science, and related information.

Also being considered by some of their members involved in Ag In the Classroom, an educational program, is the documentary Homesteading in a Promised Land, a 100-year story told by settlers of the Tulelake Basin. Oregon school children from grades three through high school would have the opportunity to learn what it took to build a community and related lessons.

Another educational project of these women is a book they created several years ago called GO, Get Organized.  It is an agricultural Oregon History schoolbook to educate students about the methods, issues, and values, relating to agriculture. It is currently being upgraded for a new edition.

Brent Searle, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Special Assistant to the Director, explained that "the America public has little knowledge of agriculture anymore."  Having grown up on the farm, Searle promotes Ag In The Classroom.  He told the audience that we must tell and re-tell the agriculture story; it is important to our rural environment, agricultural and social issues. He said that our government is a product of our educational system. 

According to Searle, Oregon agriculture provides 9.5 percent of Oregon's jobs and over $11 billion in total economic activity to the state's economy, beginning with $3.8 billion dollars value at the farmgate. There are 40,000 farms and ranches, and 98 percent are family owned and operated. Klamath County has the 8th highest value for an agricultural community with $182 million dollars annual income. Ag is the second highest export worth $1.8 billion dollars, with computers being the top state export. And Oregon's food growers and processors are the largest providers for Oregon's food banks.

Several women shared their experiences with finding a nitch in farming or ranching, and how they searched the markets and to form successful businesses. They detailed their methods of attaining their success. It was also brought to our attention that one forth of ranch and farm operators are women, and there is a 31 percent growth in women managers.

Another issue the Oregon women are addressing is the planned wolf introduction in Oregon.  Sharon Beck explained that Canadian Gray Wolves are not native in Oregon, and Oregon's endangered species act, OESA), requires any listed species to be "native, not introduced." In states where the wolves have been introduced, the amount of livestock killed annually has doubled. The money spent on damage annually has also doubled. As it stands now in Oregon, if you kill a wolf, even if it is killing your livestock, the criminal rancher will serve one year in jail and pay $100,000 fine. If you can prove that the wolf killed your livestock, the state must pay restitution.  However only one in seven animals are usually found, it's hard to prove the killer was a wolf, and the state has only budgeted $100,000, not enough money to handle the restitution for this illegally listed wolf that will kill your livestock.

Beck quoted Janet London, 'environmentalist', as saying, "Save the planet; shoot a rancher." This is the mentality of the 'ecoterrorists' who have pushed through this new wolf law.

Oregon Women For Agriculture will be writing letters and contesting this detrimental, illegal law.

From Steens Mountain, Cindy Witzel spoke of their successful horse packing business, despite efforts of the BLM and 'environmental' groups trying to shut down all human activity in the Steens.  Still ranching on Witzel's grandparent's 1860 homestead, she shared told us how the government flooded out Wetzel's ranch forcing her husband's parents to leave their property.  With the extreme anti-human agenda, the BLM and  'environmental' groups are trying to eliminate an annual run of high school students through the Steens because they squish some grass and it looks like they leave a trail. It is ok for rabbits, deer, elk, and wild animals to leave paths, but not children. Congressional hearings have been held because of these attacks on ranching and humans living in areas targeted for government acquisition. Presently the BLM owns most of the 'public land' surrounding the Steens ranches, and Clinton designated it 'Wilderness Area' before he left office. So the residents must report every trip they make on this so-called 'public land' to enter their private land. All 'environmental' groups are appealing rancher's access to their own private property. 

To educate the public on the value of ranching, Wetzels take visitors on guided tours through the Steens so people can see first-hand the positive results of responsible ranching in Oregon's outback.

Once again,  as in customary for the Oregon Women for Agriculture, they will be supporting the residents living in the Steens who caretake the land and natural resources.

Any time you hear that Oregon Women for Agriculture are coming your way, share your issues and stories with them because these women have been there. And when they say they will help, they mean business.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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