Residents in Winston will be voting on whether to ease restrictions on cannabis shops in the city and, if so, whether to tax them locally, while in Reedsport, where such shops are already allowed, voters will weigh in on whether to add a local tax to those shops.
The question of whether to allow dispensaries in Winston has been a topic of debate for several years.
After recreational marijuana was legalized, Winston didn’t ban the product outright like some local governments in Oregon did. Instead, the city implemented more stringent buffer zone laws than the state. For example, Oregon law requires dispensaries to be in a commercial zone and at least 1,000 feet away from schools, daycare centers and other dispensaries. Winston requires them to be 500 feet from churches and 200 feet from properties zoned residential and parks/public reserve.
That left virtually no properties available to open a dispensary.
In 2019, the Winston City Council discussed whether to ease restrictions on where dispensaries could be located, but ultimately decided to put the matter to voters. At the time, City Manager Mark Bauer said he thought each dispensary could generate between $20,000-$40,000 per year in tax revenue for the city.
The Winston vote on easing restrictions for cannabis shops is considered “advisory” and therefore not binding, meaning the City Council has the power to override the decision of voters. But city officials have said putting the matter on the ballot then going against the wishes of voters would amount to “political suicide.”
Voters in Winston and Reedsport will also be asked whether their cities should impose a local tax on sales in recreational cannabis shops.
The state collects a 17% tax on dispensaries and local governments can add up to another 3%. That extra tax can add up for local governments. The City of Roseburg, for example, collected nearly $200,000 in taxes from eight licensed dispensaries in fiscal year 2018-19.
The Winston measure would impose a 3% local tax. The Reedsport measure does not specific the amount of the local tax, but by law it cannot exceed 3%.
On Saturday, Sept. 6, the National Weather Service issued a “Red Flag” warning for much of western Oregon.
Extremely dry fuels, high temperatures and low relative humidities are always a cause for concern in the summer months. But this warning included potentially dangerous winds out of the east.
East winds? On Labor Day Weekend? Those are historically reserved for October, commonly referred to as “chinook winds.”
Those east winds arrived, as predicted. Only four days later, a vast portion of the western Oregon landscape was changed — likely for decades.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 8, firefighters responded to a grass fire on the north side of the North Umpqua River near Glide.
Crews from the Douglas Forest Protective Association, with the assistance of helicopter support and bulldozers, were working to slow the growth of the French Creek Fire. By mid-morning, air support was called further east as two separate fires near Susan Creek and Steamboat were rapidly growing in size.
Then known as the Star Mountain and Archie Creek fires, the two quickly merged together, fueled by continuing strong winds blowing from the east down the North Umpqua River corridor.
Early that Tuesday afternoon, a smoke plume similar to a volcanic eruption rose into the sky 20 miles east of Glide. Within an hour, the entire Umpqua Valley Basin was cloaked in a layer of smoke.
Day quickly turned to night.
By 3 p.m., burning leaves and other debris were falling in neighboring communities. The entirety of the Glide and Idleyld Park communities were under a full Level 3 “Go!” evacuation order.
Many residents fled, while others stayed to defend their homes, their property, their livestock, their livelihoods.
Only 12 hours later, the Archie Creek Fire had consumed an estimated 72,000 acres. By comparison, the 2013 Douglas Complex fires in southern Douglas County burned 68,000-plus acres over the course of a month.
“It was unprecedented in its scope and ferocity,” said Mark Turney of the Umpqua National Forest.
The intensity of the east winds was strong enough to carry burning embers around the western edge of Mount Scott and into the upper Calapooya Creek drainage, forcing more evacuations east of Sutherlin.
By late night that Tuesday, the Archie Creek Fire had burned nearly 100,000 acres.
Archie is the largest wildfire on record in Douglas County, topping out at 131,542 acres.
A total of 109 homes were lost in the blaze, most of which were in the Highway 138 East corridor and along Rock Creek Road. Also lost were the Rock Creek Fish Hatchery, a DFPA fire lookout on Mount Scott, and the DFPA guard station just east of Swiftwater Park.
A soil burn severity report was released this past Wednesday, showing that 77% of the fire burned at moderate or high intensity:
• A moderate burn severity means that up to 80% of the ground cover was damaged, but that the structure of the ground soil would generally remain unchanged.
• High burn severity means that all or nearly all ground cover and organic matter (litter, duff and fine roots) is consumed, with white or gray ash several centimeters deep.
More than 43,000 acres (33% of the fire’s total area) were classified as a high severity burn area, meaning tree root systems were compromised. Although foresters have worked tirelessly for weeks removing potentially hazardous trees near roadways throughout Archie’s path, the risk of falling trees and landslides is expected to persist throughout the winter.
Despite the carnage of the Archie Creek Fire, the only life lost was that of an equipment operator who was awaiting his day’s assignment. With the speed at which Archie moved, all residents were able to evacuate safely. Other western Oregon residents weren’t as lucky.
In all, more than 1.2 million acres have burned throughout Oregon during the 2020 fire season, more than double the 10-year average of 550,000 acres, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Seven new people have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Saturday update from the Douglas County COVID-19 Response Team.
This makes 28 new total cases (27 positive and one presumptive) since last Sunday, for a total of 315 with COVID-19.
“We know we keep reiterating this message, but our primary focus is to do everything we can to protect the health, safety and well-being of our residents,” the COVID-19 Response Team said in its Saturday update. “With the onset of cold and flu season, holiday happenings on the horizon, people yearning for social activities and parents already expressing remote teaching fatigue, it’s important that everyone get back on track with COVID-19 prevention measures.”
Three Douglas County residents are being cared for in local facilities, one is being cared for outside of the county, and one non-county resident is also being hospitalized locally. Forty-six county residents are currently being cared for in isolation, and an additional 129 suspected contacts are in self-quarantine.
The county has seen 127 total cases since Sept. 13.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 388 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 and three new deaths.
Since last Sunday, the Oregon Health Authority has reported 2,450 new positive and presumptive cases of the coronavirus — an average of 350 per day — as well as 21 deaths in the past five days.
The OHA indicated three deaths due to the coronavirus in its Saturday report.
All had underlying health conditions.
Since the onset of the pandemic in March, 620 Oregon residents have died in connection with the coronavirus.
Much of Douglas County’s wildlife, in one way or another, has been affected or displaced by the effects of the Archie Creek Fire east of Glide.
But what about the gray wolves on the eastern end of the county?
“It really didn’t affect them that much,” said Sam Dodenhoff, Southwestern Oregon wolf biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said of the Indigo Pack of wolves. “They’ve just been hanging around the Diamond Lake and Crescent Lake areas and in some instances, they’ve been just a little bit south of Toketee Falls.”
The Archie Creek Fire did, in fact, put the Indigo Pack in danger when it spread close to the pack’s activity area, which has extended west of Clearwater but has remained mostly near the county lines separating Lane, Douglas and Klamath counties. But it never extended enough to move the pack, which has grown slightly since the ODFW’s most recent count earlier this year.
The Indigo Pack remains one of three gray wolf packs in western Oregon along with the Rogue Pack, which has stayed primarily around the Jackson and Klamath county borders, and the White River Pack, which has an area of known activity near Timothy Lake in Oregon’s northern Cascade Mountain Range.
Wolves west of state highways 395, 95 and 78 have federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, and anyone who takes, harms or kills a wolf with those protections can be slapped with penalties of up to a year in prison and fines of up to $100,000. Most of Oregon’s wolf packs reside in the far northeastern part of Oregon, and wolves in eastern Oregon were removed from the state’s endangered species list in 2015.
The current pack was first identified on March of 2019 when three wolves were spotted on a remote camera in the Umpqua National Forest north of Highway 138 East. Later in the year, shots from remote cameras showed a female walking along a logging trail with three wolf pups in the eastern part of the county. The ODFW considers four or more wolves together to be a pack — three or fewer wolves is considered by the agency as a group of wolves — but waited until the beginning of this year to make that designation to see how many of the pups survived.
Tracking the pack has been challenging since ODFW had to remove its remote cameras from the area because of the Archie Creek Fire, Dodenhoff said. He also said the pack had grown to eight wolves with two collared females that included wolves designated as OR-80 and OR-92 — a term the ODFW uses to name each of the wolves the agency collars in numerical order.
Dodenhoff said the three pups are still alive and one of the wolves, OR-80, died this past month. That leaves four adults, including OR-92, for a total of seven wolves in the pack.
He said the pack likely has seen “no shortage of food,” which is likely the reason why it has remained in the its area and hasn’t wandered elsewhere.
“The one thing about wolves is they they certainly live and die by mobility, and they can travel long distances in a short amount of time,” Dodenhoff said. “That hasn’t been the case for them because it seems like there’s been a pretty consistent food source.”
Dodenhoff said he and other ODFW personnel plan to get into the area to re-install remote cameras when fire restrictions in the Umpqua National Forest have been fully lifted.