Planning didn't destroy agriculture

Jared Black (Guest opinion, July 8) begins with a false premise and tries to blame land-use planning for changes in society.

Far from being created by a single governor, Oregon's highly regarded land-use planning efforts began with Senate Bill 100, an act of the Legislature. The legislation, not the governor, formed the Land Conservation and Development Commission, a coordination and review panel for decisions developed by municipal and county planning commissions.

Land-use planning in Oregon, far from big-government central planning, was a local effort. Citizens in every part of the state worked to develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances for their own locality. Jared Black's own father was very active in the development of land-use planning in Jackson County and served on the Applegate Citizens' Advisory Committee.

Still, Jared Black argues that changes in society and economics reflect a failure of land-use planning. Declines in agricultural activities cannot be blamed on land-use planning when there is so much evidence that, during the same period, increases in farming efficiency and large agribusiness decimated small family farms across the nation.

Declines in timber harvest have resulted not from land-use planning but from growing awareness of other forest values. Land-use planning, in fact, preserved forestland that would otherwise have been cut over and converted to non-agricultural use, a common practice in Oregon during the late 1960s. Farmland across the state was saved from being carved into cookie-cutter housing developments by land-use planning.

Jared Black further confuses the reader by bemoaning the loss of young farmers, then admits that he, himself, left farming to pursue another career. Is land-use planning to blame for his choice?

Indeed, for 50-plus years, graduates from rural Oregon high schools were propelled away to big cities and bigger salaries. A new generation of farmers, such as the organic farmers who recently re-chartered the Applegate Grange, are trickling back in to take their place.

Land-use planning has helped to preserve the very farmland that is now so critical to preserving local foods and local economies. Jared Black also contends that the increase in transfer payments (Social Security) is because of a static population aging in place. The young people moved away and retirement age (think baby boomers) with transfer payments have relocated to rural Oregon counties.

Land-use planning has had the effect of making rural Oregon counties an attractive destination for retirees: clean water, clean air, livable densities and natural beauty. A review of farm and forestland zoning may produce some changes, but it also should show us how far we have come since donation land claims were cut into 10-acre parcels and sold for vacation homes. It does not, however, mean a new wave of unbridled liberty, leaving the natural resources of Oregon to be sacrificed.

A.O. Black is the sister of Jared Black. She lives in Ashland.

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