Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, March 20, 2015, Page 3, Image 3

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    March 20, 2015
CapitalPress.com
WDFW director: Wolf
recovery on its way
Oregon expands sage grouse
conservation agreements
By ERIC MORTENSON
Capital Press
Oregon’s
collaborative
model of protecting sage
grouse habitat expands this
week as private landowners
represented by five soil and
water conservation districts
sign on to agreements that cov-
er more than 2.3 million acres.
The agreements reached
with the U.S. Fish and Wild-
life Service cover ranchers
and other landowners in Bak-
er, Crook, Deschutes, Grant,
Lake, Malheur and southern
Union counties. A signing cer-
emony was scheduled March
18 in Juntura, in Malheur
County in the southeast cor-
ner of the state.
Landowners who vol-
untarily sign what is called
a Candidate Conservation
Agreement with Assurances,
or CCAA, agree to manage
their range in a way that re-
moves or reduces threats to
greater sage grouse. The bird
is a candidate for listing under
the Endangered Species Act
this fall.
In return, landowners are
protected from additional
regulation for 30 years, even
if sage grouse are listed as
endangered. Oregon ranchers
describe the requirements as
reasonable. They agree to do
such things as mark fences
so bird don’t fly into them,
remove intrusive juniper
trees that provide perches for
grouse predators and crowd
out sage, put escape ramps
in watering troughs and keep
grazing cattle out of grouse
gathering areas, called leks,
during mating season.
Paul Henson, supervisor of
the USFWS’s Oregon office,
says the peace of mind that
comes from regulatory pro-
tection is a powerful incentive
for landowners.
The potential endangered
species listing of sage grouse
Predators are
spreading out,
agency head says
is a concern in 11 Western
states, because it could restrict
grazing, farming, mining and
energy development on mil-
lions of acres. Most grouse
habitat is on public land over-
seen by the federal Bureau of
Land Management, which has
its own grouse conservation
agreement with the wildlife
service. In the Oregon agree-
ments, soil and water con-
servation districts act as in-
termediaries between private
landowners and federal wild-
life officials. Participants say
the arrangement works be-
cause the districts have strong
local ties and are trusted by
ranchers.
Counting an earlier agree-
ment brokered by the Har-
ney County Soil and Water
Conservation District and an
agreement with the Depart-
ment of State Lands, more
than 4 million acres of grouse
habitat in Oregon is covered
by conservation accords.
By DON JENKINS
Capital Press
Precision ag faces growing pains, experts say
More powerful
technology could
hit constraints
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
Capital Press
SALEM — Precision ag-
riculture is bound to suffer
some growing pains as new
high-tech farming tools be-
come more prevalent and
powerful, experts say.
As more devices com-
municate wirelessly via the
electromagnetic spectrum,
the bandwidth available for
their signals becomes more
crowded, according to speak-
ers March 17 at the Precision
Farming Expo.
The phenomenon could
be problematic as unmanned
aerial vehicles, often called
drones, require more band-
width as they grow more
complex, said Gretchen West,
vice president of business de-
velopment and regulatory af-
fairs for DroneDeploy, which
specializes in the technology.
“If there’s no bandwidth
to operate them, you’re
grounded,” she said.
Demand for bandwidth
is expected to keep growing
with autonomous cars and
the “internet of things” — the
phenomenon in which more
objects gather and trans-
mit information, said Clive
Blacker, precision agricul-
ture specialist with UK Trade
& Investment, a government
agency in the United King-
dom, and operator of the Pre-
cision Decisions company.
“I think it has the potential
to be a big limitation if we’re
not careful,” he said.
Agriculture got a preview
of the potential conflicts loom-
ing over bandwidth with the
dispute over LightSquared, a
company that planned to roll
out a powerful new telecom-
munications network.
The system threatened
to interfere with radiowave
frequencies used by Glob-
al Positioning Systems and
was opposed by farm ma-
Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press
A small unmanned aerial vehicle takes flight from the palm of Victor Villegas, right, technology and
media support coordinator with Oregon State University, at the recent Precision Farming Expo in Sa-
lem, Ore. Competition for bandwidth is expected to be a growing pain for precision agriculture as more
devices transmit data wirelessly, experts say.
chinery companies and oth-
er users of GPS technology.
LightSquared ultimately filed
for bankruptcy after the Fed-
eral Communications Com-
mission revoked approval for
the plan.
Telecommunications is not
the only field in which crowd-
ing is an issue, said Blacker.
Much of the increased ef-
ficiency in farming can be at-
tributed to bigger machinery,
but it cannot continue grow-
ing rapidly due to the size
and weight limits of existing
roads, railways, bridges and
tunnels, he said.
“It will be a physical im-
possibility for shipping and
movement,” Blacker said.
Larger implements also
necessitate improvements in
precision technology if farm-
ers are to collect the most ac-
curate data about their fields,
he said.
For example, if the cut-
ter bar on a combine is made
twice as long but doesn’t in-
corporate more yield sensors,
the resulting yield map of a
field is effectively less de-
tailed.
The same challenge exists
3
OLYMPIA, — Wolves
are more numerous and more
widely distributed than an
official count shows and are
likely to be established state-
wide sooner than expected,
Washington Department of
Fish and Wildlife Director
Jim Unsworth said March
12.
“It won’t be long before
we’ll be, hopefully, in a sit-
uation where we can delist
wolves both on the state and
federal levels, and we can
move forward on manage-
ment and figure out how we
can deal with that critter,”
Unsworth told a Senate com-
mittee.
In an interview afterward,
Unsworth said he can’t pre-
dict a year, but called WD-
FW’s estimate that wolves
will be roaming and breeding
in the wild statewide by 2021
“conservative.”
“It’s apparent it’s a mat-
ter of time before wolves are
widely distributed around the
state,” he said.
Unsworth became direc-
tor in January. Previously, he
was deputy director of the
Idaho Department of Fish and
Game.
He introduced himself to
the Senate Natural Resourc-
es and Parks Committee and
touched on several subjects,
including wolves.
On Friday, WDFW re-
leased its 2014 wolf count and
reported it had confirmed 68
wolves in the state, a 30 per-
cent increase over 2013. The
number of packs increased
from 12 to 16.
The number of confirmed
breeding pairs, however, has
been stuck since 2012 at five,
with four in northeast Wash-
ington.
Don Jenkins/Capital Press
Washington Department of Fish
and Wildlife Director Jim Un-
sworth chats March 12 in a hall-
way on the Capitol Campus in
Olympia with Washington Farm
Bureau director of governmental
relations Tom Davis. Unsworth
says wolf recovery may be
sooner than the department’s
current estimate of 2021.
Under the state’s wolf re-
covery plan, wolves won’t
be eligible to be taken off the
state’s endangered species list
until breeding pairs are more
evenly distributed and num-
ber at least 15.
Because the number of
wolves and packs is growing,
breeding pairs are apparently
going undetected, Unsworth
said.
“I would say there are more
than five breeding pairs,” he
said. “Obviously, there are
breeding pairs out there where
there are packs showing up.”
Lawmakers from north-
east Washington are push-
ing for revisions to the wolf
plan, saying the predators are
a growing financial threat in
their part of the state, while
the documented spread of
wolves has been frustratingly
slow.
The Senate and House
have passed similar bills call-
ing on WDFW to reconsider
aspects of the wolf plan, in-
cluding whether packs, rather
than breeding pairs, should be
the benchmark for recovery.
“I think it’s probably a
better metric than breeding
pairs,” Unsworth said. “It’s
easier to document packs and
their distribution.”
While breeding pairs
may be hard to find, “packs
become pretty apparent on
the landscape,” Unsworth
said.
for equipment that applies
fertilizers or pesticides: if it
becomes larger, then more
complexity is necessary for
variable-rate applications.
Blacker said he’s also
concerned that technology
companies want to control
or restrict data. For exam-
ple, hardware manufacturers
generally want data collect-
ed with their tools to be in-
terpreted and analyzed with
their proprietary software
systems.
“There’s a concern that the
data is going to be more inac-
cessible, rather than accessi-
ble,” he said.
Aside from limiting how
the farmer uses data, this ap-
proach also threatens to ren-
der some information obso-
lete if a manufacturer goes out
of business or stops producing
a line of hardware.
Blacker said field data
he collected in 1990s is now
unusable because it doesn’t
work with modern technology
formats.
“If we’re not careful, we
may start losing data because
of technology changes,” he
said.
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