W here you stand, according to a famous political maxim, depends on where you sit. This is a clever way of explaining that a person’s circumstances and interests tend to inform his policy preferences, and it’s particularly relevant in light of two local recreational debates.
One involves the pedestrian bridge Bend’s park district would like to build over the Deschutes River, and the other involves the Forest Service’s proposal to limit access to wilderness trailheads in Central Oregon.
The local version of what’s known as Miles’ Law would go like this: Where you stand depends on where you sit, stay, heel, fetch and roll over.
On April 11, the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources took up bill that would, thanks to a “gut and stuff” amendment, prohibit the construction of a footbridge along the Deschutes River Trail just outside of Bend. Three people, in addition to sponsor Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, came to Salem to testify in support of the bill. One of them is Kreg Lindberg, an OSU-Cascades faculty member who told lawmakers that he’s a professor specializing in outdoor recreation and survey research. He also let them know that he has, on a contract basis, done a lot of survey work on behalf of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.
Not only is Lindberg an expert, in other words, but he’s a public expert on issues closely tied to the footbridge debate.
Lindberg has continued to lend his expertise and credibility to the anti-footbridge effort, most recently this month by submitting a guest column to The Bulletin in which he challenges a community survey commissioned by the Bend Park & Recreation District. The survey indicates strong support for the controversial footbridge. But Lindberg, the expert, argues that the survey may have been compromised by four types of research error and concludes, “Important (and controversial) policy decisions, like this one, should not rely solely on general population surveys.”
No one, of course, is relying “solely” on this survey to justify a bridge. But you get the point: Lindberg, as he acknowledged July 17, doesn’t think much of the survey.
Rewind to July 3, less than two weeks before Lindberg’s guest column appeared in The Bulletin. On that day, Lindberg sent an email to the Forest Service opposing a proposal to limit the use of several trailheads in Central Oregon leading to wilderness areas.
He used his response as an opportunity to urge forest officials to roll back wilderness restrictions adopted in 2003 that require hikers to keep their dogs leashed during certain parts of the year.
In support of his argument, Lindberg cited the very same park district survey he later sought to undermine. Of the recreation opportunities evaluated in the park district’s survey, he wrote, “off-leash dog trails was the highest unmet need.” So open up wilderness areas.
When asked about this inconsistency, Lindberg explained that he was particularly bothered by only one of the four survey errors he cited in his guest column: the one involving a question related to the proposed footbridge. Therefore, he says, there is no contradiction between his guest column and his email to the Forest Service.
Perhaps. But what, to a skeptical eye, might explain a survey expert’s seemingly conflicting use of the same survey: once to argue against a pedestrian bridge over a developed section of river at the edge of a city, and again to argue for the relaxation of leash requirements in wilderness areas?
There is a common denominator, and it goes “woof.”
Lindberg is, in addition to a professor and survey expert, an off-leash recreation activist. He is a founding board member and first board chair of DogPAC, a local organization that advocates for canine recreational opportunities, especially without the use of leashes. Though he no longer sits on the organization’s board, Lindberg’s enthusiastic support of off-leash recreation hasn’t abated (witness his comment to the Forest Service).
While opportunities for off-leash recreation in Bend have proliferated in recent years, thanks in part to the advocacy of DogPAC, there are still needs, Lindberg says. The biggest, he says, is for off-leash access to water, which is particularly important during the summer.
There is a very popular area just outside the city that provides off-leash access to the water, and it’s one Lindberg has used for years. It’s an area of Forest Service land known as Good Dog!, and it sits between Century Drive and the Deschutes River immediately west of the Bachelor View neighborhood. The likely location of the park district’s footbridge would allow users of the Deschutes River Trail on the densely populated east side of the river (where I live) to cross into the Good Dog! area and continue on the Deschutes River Trial upstream.
The possibility worries some off-leash recreation advocates. “If built,” DogPAC’s website says, “the footbridge will likely significantly increase foot and bicycle traffic along the Deschutes River frontage of the Good Dog! area.” Presumably, this would not be great for off-leash recreationists, who might experience conflicts and even pressure to employ leashes.
Lindberg did not mention his off-leash activism and its relevance to the footbridge debate in his testimony to the state House and, later, the Senate. This is so, he said July 17, because “I wasn’t testifying on the issue of off-leash” recreation. He says he has other concerns about the bridge, which would be located on a state scenic waterway. No doubt, he does. But the existence of additional concerns does not render his deep interest in off-leash recreation, which also may inform his opposition to the bridge, irrelevant.
Given time, it usually becomes apparent where those involved in public policy debates “sit,” and this often says something worth knowing about where they “stand.” Such is certainly true in Lindberg’s case, as it is for other key supporters this year of House Bill 2027.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having complicated reasons for holding a point of view. But there is something wrong with trying to rush a policy change through the Legislature so quickly that scrutiny of those involved becomes difficult. This is what happened with HB 2027, which passed the House unanimously before being brought to heel in the Senate.
The debate in Bend over the bridge will continue. In an email July 17, Lindberg urged The Bulletin “to advocate for a good process rather than (or in addition to) a specific outcome.” A good process being an open and deliberative process, I couldn’t agree more.
— Erik Lukens is editor of The Bulletin.