Friday, January 22, 2016

Standoff exposes urban, rural divide

by Eric Mortenson

...Not to put too fine a point on it, but that illustrates the casual disconnect between urban and rural. It’s a division on display as armed men occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters in Harney County and demand the federal government release area ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond and turn over all federally managed land to the states, counties or private ranchers.

Many people living in Portland and other urban centers mock the occupiers as “Y’all Qaeda” and ridicule their beliefs. They rail about “welfare cowboys” receiving “subsidized” grazing fees on federal land.

Meanwhile, rural residents, farming and ranching groups and elected officials have criticized the occupiers’ actions. But they say the underlying anger about lost economic opportunity in the rural West is very real.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who represents Eastern Oregon in Congress, said the thread tying the Hammond family’s case with the occupiers’ demands is “decades of frustration, arrogance and betrayal that has contributed to the mistrust of the federal government.”

In Portland and other urban centers, that connection isn’t so clear.

“Because it’s not on their radar,” said John Morgan, an economic development, civic and leadership planner and consultant who works with rural communities.

Harney County, where federal and state agencies manage about 75 percent of the land, has 1,200 fewer people and 10 percent fewer jobs than it did in the late 1970s. The number of logging and mill jobs in the county went from 768 in 1978 to just 6 in 2014, according to state figures.

Meanwhile, the state’s urban areas, especially Portland and surrounding Multnomah County, have grown dramatically. With its 14,000 employees, OHSU alone has nearly twice as many people as Harney County. Intel, the computer chip manufacturing company based in Hillsboro, employs about 18,000 people.

Yet the wheat, timber, wine, livestock and other agricultural products pouring out of rural Oregon are crucial to cities, Morgan said. City shipping, trucking, processing, professional service and retail jobs depend on them.


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