Willamette Valley News, Monday 11/28 – Authorities Looking For Driver Who Left Scene of Fatal Coburg Crash, High-Speed Chase Leads To Fatal Crash on Hwy 126

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Willamette Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s WillametteValleyMagazine.com

Monday, November 28, 2022

Willamette Valley Weather

Authorities Looking For Driver Who Left Scene of Fatal Coburg Crash

The Coburg Fire Department has confirmed one person is dead and another is hospitalized after a two-car crash in Coburg Sunday night.

Crews responded before 9:30 p.m. near the intersection of Coburg Road and McKenzie View Drive.

Authorities are also looking for a driver who they say left the scene.

Roads were still closed as of 2 a.m. Monday. Anyone with information is asked to call the Lane County Sheriff’s Office at 541-682-4150.

High-Speed Chase Leads To Fatal Crash on Highway 126

According to officials with the Springfield Police Department, just before 10:30 p.m. Saturday, one of their officers was stopped at a red light on 42nd Street and Main Street when they saw a dark-colored Range Rover pass them eastbound on Main Street. They said the car was going 80-90 miles per hour.

Officials said the officer tried to catch the car, but due to extremely high speeds, weren’t able to catch it and lost sight of the car. 

Officers began searching the area of Highway 126 and Thurston Road when they said they got a 911 call about a car crash in the 3800 block of Highway 126. Officials said they arrived within seconds, to find the driver of the Ranger Rover dead. 

An investigation is underway; officials said alcohol and speed are being investigated as contributing factors.

Hunter Finds Deceased Person Near Noti

On Sunday 11/20/22, Lane County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to the area of Wacker Point Rd. northwest of Noti after receiving reports that a hunter had located a deceased person in the woods. Wacker Point Rd. is located north of Hwy. 126 and is also known as the BLM 17-7-22 Rd.

Deputies responded and identified the deceased person to be a white male in his 30’s. His identity is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. LCSO Case #22-6507

If you have any information about this case or traveled on Wacker Point Rd. on Friday 11/18/22 through Sunday 11/20/22, please contact the Lane County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 541-682-4167.

Suspicious Vehicle Abandoned at Walton Post Office

Deputies are seeking information regarding a vehicle that was abandoned at the Walton Post Office on Hwy. 126W on or around Monday 11/21/22.

The vehicle is a dark gray or blue GMC Envoy SUV bearing OR Plate #682JKZ. Anyone with information about this vehicle is asked to contact the Lane County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 541-682-4167.

The First Christian Church in Eugene is partnering with Lane County Health and Human Services and CAHOOTS to help with the newly-announced Operation Winter Survival Stockpile, an effort to have plenty of warm winter clothing and supplies through donations that will help people experiencing homelessness.

Lane County and CAHOOTS coordinated an event for the drive last Friday – community members can still drop off items at the church between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays.

Some of the items they need include things like tents, blankets, sleeping bags, hand warmers, and anything else that can be used to keep someone warm as well as other survival supplies. Lane County officials say the supplies would be distributed to homeless outreach providers like CAHOOTS that have direct contact with individuals in need.

Some items that Operation Winter Survival Stockpile’s looking for are:

  • Tents – preferably 2 person
  • Blankets – preferably wool
  • Rain ponchos
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Hand Warmers
  • Socks – preferably wool
  • Tarps
  • Gift Cards
  • Laundry Cards
  • Footwear
  • Thermal Underwear
  • Flashlights/ Batteries
  • Beanies/Warm Hats
  • Gloves
  • Other survival supplies

Items can continued to be dropped off on weekdays between the hours if 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at First Christian Church, at 1166 Oak Street in Eugene.

For more information on Operation Winter Survival Stockpile contact Maria Cortex at Maria.Cortez@lanecountyor.gov

For those who don’t wish to donate in-person, or are just looking for ideas on what to donate, the church has set up an Amazon wish list for Operation Winter Stockpile.

ODOT Warns Drivers To Be Ready For Snow

With snow forecast for parts of Oregon, drivers should be ready for travel and Oregon’s chains and snow tire rules.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has a list of cold weather driving guidelines, including:

  • “You must chain up whenever posted signs advise they are required.
  • Weather is unpredictable and may change rapidly. Ensure you are always ready for “unexpected” poor conditions.
  • All vehicles over 10,000 lbs. GVW must carry chains whenever their use may be needed or required. Failure to carry appropriate chains may result in a fine.
  • The time it takes to chain up is small compared to the delay, risk and liability of an accident.”

To review Oregon’s chain law and vehicles that may be exempt from it, go to Oregon’s Chain Law.  Specific information on chain requirements is listed in Oregon Administrative Rule Chapter 734, Division 17.

In typical winter conditions, vehicles rated at 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight (GVW) or less and not towing or being towed are allowed to use traction tires in place of chains. However in very bad winter road conditions all vehicles may be required to use chains regardless of the type of vehicle or type of tire being used. This is known as a conditional road closure.

ODOT advises a conditional road closure may occur on any of Oregon’s highways and are frequent in the winter on Interstate 5 through the Siskiyou Pass south of Ashland.

“Traction Tires” are studded tires, retractable studded tires, or other tires that meet the tire industry definition as suitable for use in severe snow conditions.

  • Tires designated by the tire industry as suitable for use in severe snow conditions are marked with a mountain/snowflake emblem on the sidewall like this:
    Snowflake/Mountain emblem.
    For information on these tires, contact your tire dealer or the Northwest Tires Dealers Association.
  • “Retractable studded tires” are tires with embedded studs that retract to at or below the wear bar of the tire and project not less than .04 inch beyond the tread surface of the tire when extended.
  • “Studded tires” are tires with studs that are made of a rigid material that wears at the same rate as the tire tread. The studs must extend at least .04 inch but not more than .06 inch beyond the tread surface. Studded tires are only legal for use in Oregon from November 1 through March 31.

When allowed in place of chains, traction tires are to be placed as shown on Minimum Chain Requirements.  Other information about chain requirements is at Oregon Chain Law page at tripcheck.org.

Studded tires are legal in Oregon November 1 through March 31. ODOT suggests, “Because of the damage caused by studded tires, the Department of Transportation encourages motorists to use studded tires only when necessary. Delaying putting on studded tires or using other traction tires is helpful to the condition of the highways. . . Although exempt, ODOT vehicles use mud and snow tires and chains in most winter situations. Studded tires are not used on ODOT vehicles because of the damage such tires cause to the highway.”

ODOT says drivers who disobey signs requiring chains or traction tires be carried are subject to class C traffic violations and, “Not using chains or traction tires when signs require them could result in a specific fine traffic violation with a penalty of $880.”

Human Remains Located Along I-5 near Keizer

On Monday, November 21, 2022 at approximately 9:18 AM, Oregon State Police Troopers responded to a suspicious object found by Oregon Department of Corrections cleanup crew on northbound Interstate 5 near milepost 260.

OSP Troopers with the Salem Area Command took possession of a small backpack that contained a human skull. 

The skull was transported to the  Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office who will continue to investigate the identity of the skull. The skull had no identifiable features, but was most likely that of a female in her late 30’s to 40’s.  No further information is available at this time. 

Oregon Receives $800,000 Federal Grant For Rural Health And Food Assistance

Rural areas across the state will share in $800,000 federal funding to improve rural health care funding and food assistance.

Oregon will receive $801,300 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Emergency Rural Health Care Grant program to support organizations and facilities across Oregon provide vital emergency rural health care and food assistance to rural communities.

The USDA Emergency Rural Health Care program provides up to $500 million in grant funding to help broaden access to COVID-19 testing and vaccines, rural health care services, and food assistance through food banks and food distribution facilities.

The federal funding will go to:

Columbia Memorial Hospital Astoria — $113,000 to upgrade the hospital’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and create a new cold storage to increase vaccine storage capabilities.

Florence Food Share — $48,600 to help fund increased staffing costs related to the COVID pandemic.

Brookings Harbor Community Helpers — $250,200 to support increased staffing including the hiring of a bilingual interpreter and advocate to bridge the gap with the Hispanic community.

Grande Ronde Hospital — $88,200 to ensure they have the needed funds to purchase hospital equipment and enhance its capabilities to respond to COVID-19 by providing enhanced medical services.

Harney District Hospital — $273,400 to purchase and install a laboratory chemistry analyzer and medication dispensing system to improve the hospital’s ability to provide quick, reliable testing to detect medical conditions related to the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Harney County Senior and Community Services Center (HCSC) — $27,900 to purchase a refrigerated food truck, a commercial freezer, and transportable coolers for their food pantry.

“These grants awarded to Oregon will help provide crucial support in ensuring Oregon’s rural families have access to the health care and food on the table they need to thrive,” Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley said. “These funds from USDA will help ensure rural Oregon communities get the resources they need to stay healthy.”

“These funds to strengthen health care and fight hunger are lifelines for rural Oregonians counting on local hospitals and organizations in their communities for help,” Oregon U. DS. Senator Ron Wyden said. “I’m glad these federal grants are heading to our state, and I’ll keep battling for similar federal investments that bolster rural quality of life throughout Oregon.”

Record Number Of Fir Trees Dying In Oregon

Fir trees in Oregon and Washington died in record-breaking numbers in 2022, according to as-yet unpublished research conducted by the U.S. Forest Service.

Called “Firmageddon” by researchers, the “significant and disturbing” mortality event is the largest die-off ever recorded for fir trees in the two states.

In total, the Forest Service observed fir die-offs occurring on more than 1.23 million acres (over 1,900 square miles) in Oregon and Washington.

Oregon, however, was the hardest hit. The Forest Service observed dead firs on roughly 1.1 million acres (over 1,700 square miles) of forest in Oregon alone. This year’s numbers for the state are nearly double the acres recorded during previous die-offs.

Heavily affected areas include the Fremont, Winema, Ochoco and Malheur National Forests. The most southerly of the forests, the Fremont National Forest, was the hardest hit, according to survey data.

“We’re calling it ‘Firmageddon,’” Daniel DePinte, who led the survey for the USFS Pacific Northwest Region Aerial Survey, told a gathering of colleagues in October. “It is unprecedented, the number of acres we have seen impacted. It’s definitely significant and it’s disturbing.”

In an interview with Columbia Insight, DePinte says although his team’s results are preliminary and further analysis is needed, the 2022 Firmageddon appears to be due to a combination of drought coupled with insects and fungal diseases working together to weaken and kill trees.

Extreme heat, including last year’s record-breaking “heat dome,” is also being investigated as a possible cause.

“When a drought event comes around it basically weakens the entire forest to a point where the insects and the diseases start to work in tandem and this pushes a tree over the edge and it succumbs to mortality,” says DePinte.

What’s noteworthy about Firmageddon isn’t just the total area impacted. It’s the number of dead trees within that space. In some areas as much as 50% or more of fir trees are estimated to have died.

These “severe” die-off’s occurred in central Oregon in forests running from the Oregon/California border northward, according to survey data.

Surveys of forests were conducted using a combination of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, drones and satellite imagery. The surveys were primarily conducted, as they have been for decades, using an airplane flying 1,000 feet over forested land.

DePinte and his team surveyed forests on federal, state and private lands, adding up to a total of roughly 69 million acres (over 100,000 square miles) in Oregon and Washington.

Small sections of California and Idaho, where national forests spill over the state borders, were also surveyed. The Oregon Department of Forestry and Washington Department of Natural Resources also participated in the effort.

Although fir die-offs have been recorded as far back as 1952, when surveys began, this year’s Firmageddon dwarfs all previous records. The USFS did not conduct aerial surveys in 2020 due to social-distancing rules around Covid-19.

Firmageddon, as the researchers define it, appears to be limited to so-called “true fir” trees; trees in the genus Abies.

The Pacific Northwest’s leading timber crop, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), is not in the genus Abies and is not considered to be a true fir.

Die-offs were recorded for grand fir, white fir, red fir, noble fir and the hybrid Shasta red fir. The largest mortality was observed at lower elevations where grand fir and white fir are plentiful. White fir was the hardest hit species, according to survey data.

Although true firs are experiencing their worst die-off on record, Douglas fir is having a die-off of its own, though on a comparatively smaller scale.

The USFS survey estimates that 450,000 acres (over 700 square miles) of Douglas fir have experienced some level of mortality in Oregon with the majority of this occurring in southwestern Oregon.

Washington is also seeing a die-off of Douglas fir with roughly 230,000 acres (nearly 360 square miles) impacted. The level of Douglas fir die-off within the areas affected isn’t considered “severe.” The USFS defines “severe” as 50% or more of the trees within an area having died.

However, the extent of the die-off in terms of total area is concerning, according to DePinte. “It [the Douglas fir die-off] is on the lighter side,” says DePinte. “The problem is the extent. When you’re up in a plane flying over and you see that it goes on for the entire mountain side, then it’s like, ‘Whoa! That’s a huge amount of dead trees.’”

What’s really unusual, according to DePinte, is the insects that are believed to be causing the Douglas fir die-off are considered to be “secondary agendas.” The insects have the ability to kill trees that are already weakened by drought or extreme heat events, but generally can’t kill the trees on their own. “They can kill trees, but they’re not ‘tree killers,’” says DePinte.

The USFS will continue monitoring the Douglas fir die-off and will meet with researchers at Oregon State University in the coming weeks to study the issue further.

Although more analysis is required, drought appears to be weakening Douglas fir trees, making them susceptible to insect and possibly also fungal attack. This also appears to be the mechanism affecting true firs.

“I think it’s sort of a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ kind of thing,” says Robbie Flowers, a USFS etymologist, about the likely cause of the fir die-off. Firmageddon has not one cause but multiple compounding causes, according to Flowers.

Flowers, who conducted on-the-ground surveys of tree mortality to, in effect, “ground truth” the aerial survey data, says a clear relationship between drought and fir die-offs has been observed historically—droughts tend to lead to fir die-offs.

When drought occurs, says Flowers, fir trees become susceptible to pests. The pests implicated in Firmageddon are the fir engraver beetle (Scolytus ventralis), a type of bark beetle; and multiple fungal root diseases.

Various parasitic fungi can make fir roots less able to absorb water. This makes the trees more susceptible to drought conditions.

Firs with root disease are also more susceptible to insect attacks, especially from the fir engraver beetle, which gets its name because it burrows and carves up the water-rich cambium layer of a tree just under the bark.

The fir tree’s only defense against this attack in its cambium layer is to flush the insects out with pitch. But if drought and root diseases make water less available, the trees can’t amount a defense.

As a consequence, says Flowers, a large enough fir engraver infestation can effectively “girdle” an already water-stressed fir tree. “The trees have a limited amount of resources they can put into defense and they’re defenses go down then they get into these stressful situations,” says Flowers.

That drought is very likely weakening fir trees and making them susceptible to infections isn’t surprising. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Oregon and Washington have been in some form of drought since the early 2000s.

The recent dieback of western red cedars has also been linked to drought by area researchers. (A dieback occurs when a tree or other plant begins to die from the tip of its leaves or roots inward. Unlike die-offs, which count dead trees, diebacks count dead, dying and sick trees.)

While observed on redcedars experiencing dieback, biotic factors like insects and fungi were estimated by researchers to be secondary to drought as the leading cause of tree illness and death.

The spread of fir die-off and the spread of drought in Oregon match closely. In fact, DePinte notes, those areas of Oregon that have been especially hard hit with “extreme” and “exceptional drought” (as defined by the Drought Monitor) are the same areas where his team observed the largest die-offs of firs.

Increased risk of wildfire — Unsurprisingly, having more than half the fir trees dead in some of these forests poses a major fire risk. A dangerous fire period can occur within the first two years following a major die-off, says DePinte.

During these critical first two years, dead trees continue to hold onto their dried-out needles in the canopy of the forest.

This makes severe crown fires far more likely should a fire start. When this happens fire can jump from treetop to treetop, leading to large scale destruction.

“It [wildfire] can just go from tree to tree, not even touching the ground hardly, and just burn the entire canopy,” says DePinte. “That is the worst fire there is. It’s the most dangerous and hardest to control.”

Oregon State Parks offers $5 off annual parking permit purchases in December 

SALEM, Oregon— Give the gift of the outdoors and save this season with the Oregon State Parks 12-month parking permit sale through December.

The permit hangtag once again features whimsical designs from Portland artist El Tran. Holiday shoppers can buy the annual parking permits for only $25, which is a $5 savings starting Dec. 1 and running through Dec. 31. The pass is good for 12 months starting in the month of purchase.

Purchasing passes is easy. Buy them online at the Oregon State Parks store. Parking permits are also sold at some state park friends’ group stores and select local businesses throughout the state. For a complete list of vendors, visit stateparks.oregon.gov.

Parking costs $5 a day at 25 Oregon state parks unless you have a 12- or 24-month parking permit or a same-day camping receipt. The 24-month pass is $50 and is also available at store.oregonstateparks.org. The permits are transferable from vehicle to vehicle.

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