In a whirlwind bipartisan visit to five countries in two days, Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, wanted to see for himself the effects of the ethnic Albanian refugee crisis and the military coalition's campaign in the war-torn Balkans.
The freshman Armed Services Committee member joined a dozen Republicans and seven Democrats on a trip last week to Germany, Italy, Albania, Brussels (to meet with NATO officials) and Macedonia. The latter visit had the most impact on the Vietnam War veteran.
"This was one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever been through," Thompson said during a phone interview Tuesday from his Washington office. "(The visit) painted a picture for me of the tragedy they experienced."
He sat in tents at a camp south of Macedonia, listening to the plight of family members who recalled fleeing Kosovo for their lives with just "the clothes on their backs." Serbian soldiers Thompson called "Milosevic thugs" killed men, raped women and burned homes, he said, repeating published reports.
Many of the hundreds of thousands still hunted by Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic ran into the woods during the massive displacement, witnesses told the North Coast congressman. Connecting family members represents one of greatest challenges for volunteers, he said.
Dispatched to the same camp last month as Thompson, American Red Cross volunteer Randy Ackley of Moline, Ill., said he helped to hook up and witness the "remarkable reunion" of 21 members of six families searching for each other.
"There was nothing like it," Ackley said during a phone interview from Macedonia. He also distributed water and food wheat flour, beans, rice and vegetable oil to the thousands of people of all ages at the camp who are "all willing to wait in long lines."
"A lot of people are coping with an existence no one (in our country) would ever had to face," he said.
For the displaced, the conditions at the camp represent the most meager standard of living, but they're better than the alternative, Thompson said, echoing the Red Cross worker's view of the camp. But despite the wreckage of their homeland, "Everyone I talked to said they all want to go home to live in safety," Thompson added.
All the refugees he spoke with told him they support the air strikes as necessary to restore order to the region. Thompson agreed.
His visit comes on the heels of an escalating battle on the House floor over President Clinton's policy in support of the current mission by the NATO force.
Thompson voted Wednesday two days before he left the capital to support strikes. The House resolution died in a tie vote, 213-213, in which Thompson split ranks with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. According to a report in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Woolsey used her personal experience as an "antiwar activist" to cast her vote against air strikes.
The two North Coast representatives joined forces when it came to a vote later that day against sending ground troops to Yugoslavia, a plan Clinton insists he doesn't support.
Thompson believes the region's terrain would place ground forces at a disadvantage. U.S. air strikes now offer the "technical advantage," he said.
Besides, he's convinced Milosevic is weakening in his 15-month ethnic cleansing campaign that mobilized a million Balkan residents and a grand-scale volunteer effort.
Thompson was struck by the heart-felt commitment of volunteers like a nurse from Washington, D.C., who gave up her job for two months to help at the Macedonian camp.
He's also proud of the military personnel. In particular, he said the pilots conducting air strikes told him they're "trying so hard not to harm civilians." They're angry by criticism of air strikes, some of which have claimed the lives of civilians.
Thompson said he's received many e-mail messages from his district constituency on the subject half in support and half against.
Antiwar activists across the country, including the North Coast, have taken to the streets to protest U.S. involvement. In Humboldt County, signs and banners placed on freeway overpasses mark their dissatisfaction, along with rallies at the Arcata Plaza.
Two local women Edilith Eckart of Arcata and Jackie Hogan of Trinidad will join more than 4,000 activists at a peace conference next week in The Hague, Netherlands, to protest the air campaign in the Balkans and prevent "future Kosovos," a statement from the Redwood Peace Action Coalition read.
"We must reach out to the children and teach them to use words, not weapons," Eckart said in the statement. Both women could not be reached for comment at press time Tuesday.
Since 1991 teen pregnancies for mothers age 17 and under have plummeted by 50 percent in Humboldt County, with overall birth rates for teenage mothers under age 18 dropping by 20 percent.
But statistics for statutory rape and births to unwed mothers remain higher than the state average, reports the Teen-Adult Partnership for Enhancing Strategies Toward Responsible Youth.
Two new reports document the changing landscape of teen pregnancies. Recent statistics from T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y. conclude that in 1991, 230 babies were born to teens under age 19, with 55 percent of those babies born to teens 17 or under. In 1998, the teen birth rate dropped to 184 babies, with 27 percent born to mothers under 17.
Statistics for mothers having subsequent births have also dropped somewhat. T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y. reports that in 1991 and 1992, 20 percent of teens were having a second, third or fourth baby. By 1998, that figure had dropped to 18 percent.
Figures for statutory rape paint a different picture. T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y. reports that in 1997, about 67 percent of Humboldt County babies born to teen mothers were fathered by adult men over the age of 20. The state average is 66 percent.
The Humboldt County Health Department says the numbers for statutory rape are even higher. Since 1996, the department says, 90 percent of all babies born to teenage mothers as young as 14 have been fathered by men over age 18. The average age for Humboldt County fathers who impregnate teenage women? Twenty-four.
Births to unwed mothers in Humboldt County are also higher than in the rest of California. According to T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y., in 1997, 34.2 percent of Humboldt County babies were born to unwed mothers as compared to the state average of 26.4 percent.
Despite these trends, T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y. and other organizations are celebrating the marked improvement in overall teenage birth statistics.
T.A.P.E.S.T.R.Y.'s project coordinator, Beth Chatton, attributes the drop in teenage births to better sex education and family life courses in schools, which have led to increased condom use. "The fear of AIDS has a lot to do with the rise of condom use as well," Chatton said. "There has also been a rise in abstinent behavior, but belief in (one's self) is the best contraception.
"We know that any kid who doesn't have a strong sense of who they are is more likely to choose pregnancy as a way they can have something to do well at. We're working hard to create programs so that teens can develop a positive, hopeful future for themselves. We want to reduce instances of teen pregnancy and subsequent births, and reduce by 50 percent the number of teens under 15 who are getting pregnant. And we're doing that."
The number of teens getting pregnant nationally is also dropping. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that births to teenagers fell 4 percent in 1997, pushing the national birth rate for all women to an all-time low. The Alan Guttmacher Institute reports that teen pregnancies have fallen 17 percent since 1990 to the lowest level since 1973.
A proposed concept from the governor to require students to perform community service before they can graduate from state universities received a mixed response from Humboldt State University.
"I'm glad to hear the governor supports what we've done for 30 years," HSU President Alistair McCrone said, referring to the student-run Youth Educational Services (Y.E.S.) program that started in 1968.
The hands-on program encourages students to volunteer in the community but doesn't make it mandatory to all students as a condition for graduation. That would be too much of a hardship to students, McCrone said.
"It wouldn't be workable for some people," he said, recognizing the balance between school, family and work demands. "We couldn't force people to give up their jobs."
And there are other reasons.
Y.E.S. Executive Director Annie Bolick has found not everyone is cut out to be a volunteer. "Simply throwing people in the community is not appropriate," she said.
As in her program, Bolick advocates tying what students learn in with what they practice in the community. The form of integrating the volunteerism into curriculum is called "service learning," she said.
Nevertheless, Bolick believes Gov. Gray Davis' blanket idea for all students as a requirement to graduate is "well-intended."
Davis told a group of reporters at a press conference recently that he feels society is shying away from the "sense of obligation to the future" the World War II generation coveted. The governor has categorized education as his top priority for the state.
California State University, Monterey Bay already requires its students to perform community service to graduate, according to an Associated Press report.
Call it $89 a day down the drain, no more.
The city of Blue Lake ended a 43-year battle with a contractor over $90,000 in work on the city's sewer system by finally paying him $500,000 last week.
The city took out a state loan at 5 percent interest to pay Patrick J. Barkley, now 78, when it appeared delaying the "painful" pill would only make it worse, City Manager Duanne Rigge explained.
The city sued Barkley over faulty work in 1956. In turn, Barkley countersued, claiming he was forced to use faulty materials. The courts eventually sided with the contractor 11 years later.
"We felt we had a 50-50 chance (of winning)," Rigge said.
When it appeared the argument was just adding interest, the city swallowed hard and made arrangements to pay the debt. This debt means the city has "no ready cash" for major emergencies, Rigge said. The city may borrow for a supplementary loan to have as a reserve, he added.
"The hard part is now living with it," he said. The city manager doesn't expect a reduction of services, but water and sewer users will absorb rate increases already approved.
Current water and sewer rates amount to $38.78 a month. In August 2000, the monthly rates are due to go up to $42.67. To pay off the loan, the increase will now be earmarked for the debt not capital improvements as planned earlier.
By summer, the city should know whether the rates will increase further.
By the end of June, a conservation group's steadfast goal to transfer private timberlands situated between key public lands along the Mattole River Valley should pay off.
"We're confident we'll meet the (financial commitment)," Save-the-Redwoods League representative Kate Anderton said, capping a 27-year conservation effort in southern Humboldt County.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit has worked to secure nearly $5.2 million in private and foundation donations to buy 3,800 acres along Elk Ridge northwest of Garberville. The purchase of old-growth forest land, now owned by Eel River Sawmills of Fortuna, has enlisted some high-level help from the public sector.
State Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, has moved a bill to contribute $2.6 million through a Senate budget committee last week, but it needs approval from the governor and the Legislature.
The proposed acquisition represents the latest in a series of buyouts in the region, pieced together to someday create a redwoods-to-the-sea corridor.
The Gilham Butte tract of Douglas fir, oak and madrone is situated between the 55,000-acre Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where the world's largest ancient redwood grove stands, and the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area the United States' longest roadless coastline that's managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
"We've seen a real evolution in the BLM's ability to dedicate this area to habitat values," Anderton said. The region adjacent to the 64-mile-long Mattole River is home to the northern spotted owl, golden eagle and pileated woodpecker, among other bird and fish species.
"The goal of this purchase is to ensure (a) habitat (link) for the wildlife in this important old-growth Douglas fir reserve. ... Without the threat of industrial logging, the long-standing good stewardship of Mattole Valley small landowners makes this intact corridor a natural," said David Walsh of Ancient Forest International.
The Redway nonprofit group has worked with the league to shore up protection in the ecologically prime zone. Walsh said that local grassroots activists have "struggled to preserve" the old-growth forests and salmon-bearing watersheds of Gilham Butte for more than 20 years.
In January, a foundation established by Microsoft mogul Paul Allen announced it was tossing in $1 million to fulfill the purchase of a 400- acre parcel of ancient redwoods just south of Whitethorn between Humboldt and Mendocino counties. The donation to and history of the Sanctuary Forest acquisition was featured in the Jan. 28 issue of the North Coast Journal.
Eel River Sawmills has temporarily closed its Redcrest sawmill, laying off about 50 employees.
The Fortuna-based company announced in a statement last week that the workforce reduction is due to "continuing difficulties in obtaining logs." Increased government regulations and legal challenges to timber harvest plans are blamed for the shutdown, the company stated.
Two Eel River timber harvest plans in a tract under consideration for purchase by the Save-the-Redwoods League were challenged in court by the Environmental Protection Information Center based in Garberville.
The timber company will continue to operate its Fortuna sawmill and the Redcrest remanufacturing plant.
A Hydesville man was ordered by a Humboldt County judge last month to pay a $300 fine and serve two years on probation for stealing wood from Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The accusations charged against Charles Beighley last July stemmed from a long stake-out by state park rangers looking to catch a suspect who would cut up downed logs and take the wood from the park to resell as split-rail products, park Ranger John O'Rourke said.
Beighley's public defender declined to comment.
The law prohibits the taking or destroying of natural resources on protected lands, but that's not completely understood by those who park authorities call the "wood pirates" of southern Humboldt County, he said.
When questioned, these wood cutters in the region claim the "bounty of the forest" is fair game to the generations that have roots and made a living off timber in the region, O'Rourke explained.
Park authorities have gone as far as to place signs offering a $200 reward for "Bounty of the Forest" culprits, who often work in the middle of the night "when everybody's sleeping" and keep track of where the rangers are, O'Rourke said. That reason alone limits talk among park authorities on their radios.
The investigation into the "dirty little secret" in the park has prompted rangers, O'Rourke included, to keep "drug dealer hours" in the hopes of spotting the suspects.
In Beighley's case, O'Rourke said the park authorities spied remnants of the wood cut-and-thefts near suspicious tire tracks.
Some late-night wood poachers are more sophisticated than others, scoping out large logs on the edge of the Eel River that they can use to float down their harvest, the ranger noted. Some logs that end up at nearby mills may fetch as much as $25,000 for one night's work.
The park service has juggled about a dozen wood-poaching cases in the last decade, O'Rourke said.
The official results are in. Duane Sherman Sr. and Merv George Jr. will face each other in a run-off election June 15 for the chairmanship of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council.
Sherman came in with 326 votes for the top position, out of 758 voting members. George received 296 votes. The close race will be determined upon results from the general election.
Primary results eliminated candidates Ivan Hinshaw Sr. and Joseph LeMieux. About 65 percent of the voting members cast their ballots. Absentees amounted to 213 votes.
The population in Humboldt County has increased 1.6 percent in one year, according to state Department of Finance statistics released Tuesday.
Figures marking the growth between January 1998-99 show the number of people in the North Coast has reached 128,100. Out of 58 counties in California, Humboldt ranks 33 in total population.
Los Angeles County represents the clear leader with 9, 757,500 residents, a rise of 1.7 percent.
The fastest growing county over the last calendar year is Kings County in the Central Valley, with a 6 percent rise. Prison expansion could explain this significant rise though. A treatment facility for Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran was remodeled to take in more inmates.
However, the county with the closest prison Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte showed no growth in the last year. Its population is steady at 28,100 residents.
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