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Governor touts expanding tourism

Oregon

TODAY

EUGENE

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Tourism spending in Oregon increased 7.4 percent in 2005, hitting a total of $7.4 billion, according to statistics touted by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski at a tourism conference this week.

Kulongoski hailed that as the third straight year of growth since passage in 2003 of a — percent statewide lodging tax dedicated to promoting Oregon as a national and international destination.

But the governor also urged tourists and the businesses that cater to them to remember the Oregon Coast in their own travel plans this year, as the region faces possible closure of its salmon season because of low counts of spawning fish in the Klamath River.

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If I have any message for you today, it is one of partnership with our coastal communities in helping them through this very, very difficult time,&

Kulongoski said. &

Unquestionably, any reduction of the salmon season will generate a profound economic impact. So, we have a challenge before us.&

Despite worries over the coast&

s summer tourist season, Kulongoski said Oregon&

s reputation for environmental protection is serving it well among tourists who prize the outdoors.

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Our state doesn&

t restrict us to bike paths that run along major highways,&

he said.

The governor also credited a government-tourism industry partnership for luring to Oregon new international flights from Europe, Asia and Mexico.

The governor also praised a planned upgrade this spring of the Oregon Tourism Commission&

s Web site, traveloregon.com. New technology will allow visitors to design custom itineraries using a statewide database.

Oregon now ranks about 25th among the 50 states in tourism promotion, Kulongoski said &

up from 49th in 2003.

Five years for shooting at deputy

ROGUE RIVER

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A Rogue River man who fired at a Jackson County sheriff&

s deputy before getting shot in the back will spend five years in prison after pleading guilty to assault and other charges.

Curtis Lee Vancil, 33, attempted to shoot Deputy Charles Retzer during a pursuit last July. Retzer tried to stop Vancil in White City, but the chase didn&

t end until the vehicles reached rural Douglas County.

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He has this rifle and every now and then, he takes a pot-shot at the cops,&

said David Hoppe, deputy district attorney for Jackson County.

After Vancil&

s car spun out near Azalea, he climbed out. While attempting to escape, he pointed a 9 mm pistol at Retzer, who shot him in the lower back. Vancil spent about a week recovering at Rogue Valley Medical Center. A grand jury found Retzer was justified in shooting.

Before encountering the deputies, Vancil stole four guns and other items from three cars parked near Rogue River, authorities said.

Vancil had been arrested a month before the chase in connection with a string of vehicle break-ins throughout Medford.

Circuit Court Judge Patricia Crain agreed to dismiss almost a dozen other charges against Vancil on Tuesday, including charges of attempted aggravated murder.

Blaze wrecks lookout tower

GRANTS PASS

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A weekend fire destroyed a lookout tower on Mount Sexton, and investigators suspect arson, authorities said.

The fire was reported early Sunday by a man who said he rode his motorcycle to the site after seeing a glow, the Josephine County sheriff&

s office said.

Brad Talley of the Oregon Department of Forestry described the damage as extensive. The 35-foot-tall tower had a living quarters of 13-by-13 feet, and was staffed during fire season by a lookout who could see from Mount McLoughlin to the high Siskiyous.

Lookouts generally report about 30 percent of fire starts on ODF-protected lands. With the loss of the tower on Mount Sexton, there are four lookout towers in Jackson County and two in Josephine County.

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Without that tower our fire detection will drop off,&

said Talley, who noted that the road to the top of Mount Sexton is typically blocked by a locked gate.

The fire is being investigated by the Oregon State Police.

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Staff and wire reports