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Senate Dems draw the shade


Closing their caucus meetingsis a step in the wrong direction

Oregon's Senate Democrats, apparently believing that enough sunshine has penetrated their caucus meetings, have voted to close the sessions to the public. That's unfortunate.

The caucus had been the only one of the four in Salem to open its meetings. Now even that door is closed.

Each party in each chamber meets to discuss legislation. The majority caucus meetings are the most important, because the party with the most votes often controls the fate of legislation through committees and on the floor. When a party has a solid majority, as do the Republicans in the House, floor action is all too often a mere formality because the outcome has been pre-determined behind the closed doors of the caucus.

That's why it was a refreshing breath of fresh air when the Senate Democrats, with a narrow majority, agreed to open their meetings.

Supporters of closing the doors again argue that members can't speak freely in an open meeting. But before the 2005 session opened, the caucus had proposed an agreement with news media that members wouldn't be quoted by name without their consent. We said we could live with that restriction in the interest of opening up the process.

Of course it's more comfortable to plot strategy in private. But it's the public's business that is being discussed, and the public's business ought to take place where the public can see it, warts and all.

— Lawmakers did make some progress toward better public involvement during the 2005 session, holding more committee meetings around the state so more people could attend. But there is a long way yet to go.

The Senate Democrats' action is a step backward.

Save the pines It's not news that mankind likes to tamper with ecosystems. We build dams and levees, drain swamps, pave roads and do our best to prevent forest fires. Many years later we discover the problems that we have caused by our earlier actions clearly hurt Mother Nature's plans.

At times we must attempt to reverse our mistakes or face losing something of value. Such is the case for some 400- to 500-year-old sugar pines located in a 1,000-acre grove between Prospect and Union Creek. These magnificent giants along Highway 62 are in danger because successful fire prevention has resulted in the growth of small trees and brush that crowds their territory.

If the problem is left unaddressed the sugar pines will fall victim to beetle attacks and a lack of the water and soil nutrients needed to have them fulfill their expected 1,200- to 1,400-year lifespan. According to Joel King, a soil scientist and district ranger for the Prospect and Butte Falls ranger districts, studies indicate that thinning smaller trees and brush within the canopy drip line of each big tree will save them for future generations.

The desire to build, expand and protect private properties has led mankind to alter ecosystems. But we must take responsibility later if our tampering produces unexpected problems.

This one is easy: Thin the forest and save the giant sugar pines for future generations to enjoy.