Advocacy, or obstruction?

Rogue Advocates, a nonprofit group formed by well-known environmentalists, is taking on a more prominent role in local land-use cases. At least one critic calls the organizers "vigilantes," but so far they appear to have picked their battles carefully, focusing on development projects they believe would set a precedent for the future.

If Rogue Advocates' actions continue to match its leaders' rhetoric, it can make a valuable contribution to Jackson County's approach to growth.

The group was in the news recently when the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in February that Jackson County misapplied its own planning laws when it allowed a 340-acre property near John's Peak to be divided into 10-acre parcels rather than 20-acre parcels.

In another case that made headlines, the group opposed a county decision allowing Copeland Sand and Gravel to create an agricultural pond along the Applegate River by removing 93,000 tons of rock. State officials said they considered that mining, and the permit for the pond was a loophole in land-use laws.

That project ultimately was halted because Copeland did not secure a state permit allowing it to fill the pond.

It's worth noting that Rogue Advocates is working on the Applegate Sustainable Aggregate Project with Copeland and state and federal agencies to find ways to allow gravel extraction while minimizing environmental damage. That's the kind of collaboration that should happen more often.

Critics of Rogue Advocates warn darkly that the group wants to stop all growth, and even reverse development that has already occurred.

That doesn't appear to be the case, judging by the group's actions so far. Organizers say they want to strike a balance that will allow some growth and encourage long-range planning.

That's a reasonable position. No one can stop population growth, and development must occur to accommodate it. The question is where that development should occur and in what form.

Environmental groups have earned a reputation over the years for using the courts to block or delay projects they oppose. This confrontational approach has too often led to stalemate on issues such as logging and road-building in public forests.

If that's the approach Rogue Advocates employs, it will be less effective in helping to shape future growth policies.

"I don't believe in just nay-saying," Spokesman Jimmy Macleod, of Williams, says. "There are valid issues on both sides of the debate."

If those words are not just window dressing, great. But environmental activists too often resort to pure obstructionism when they don't get their way. We hope that doesn't happen with Rogue Advocates.

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