A champion for rural causes takes aim at government rules



COOS BAY -- As 250 people watched, Helen Franklin strode to the front of a
meeting in Coquille and told the Oregon Department of Agriculture that its
water plan would financially ruin local farmers.

She challenged point after point, throwing around acronyms and statute
numbers. A man in the back yelled out, "You go, girl!"

Franklin owns a struggling timber marketing business. She also is a thorn
in the side of some public agencies that she says are over-regulating small
businesses. She is tenacious and relentless. And people in Coos County love

"The citizens of Coos County are suffering economic devastation mostly
because of administrative rules," Franklin told state agriculture
officials. "I'm fed up with the bureaucratic economic terrorism aimed at
rural communities, and I intend to hold all agencies accountable for the
rules they write affecting business in this and every community."

With that, she handed in her 43-page bound public comments -- complete with
appendices -- and walked away to rousing applause.

Franklin spends hours every day poring over laws, bills, transcripts of
legislative hearings, federal register citations and a multitude of other
documents. A rainbow of tabs mark pages in the Oregon Attorney General's
Administrative Law Manual lying on her desk.

Franklin says she is just trying to protect the rights of her neighbors.
She researched for years on her own dime but was hired in September by a
nonpartisan education organization to continue her work.

"Other people work 8 to 5 or have farms. (They) don't have time to sit and
read 300 to 400 pages," she said.

Despite Franklin's frequent criticism of state regulations, some officials
say they have to give her credit.

"I always admire anyone who brings passion to an issue," said Tom Towslee,
public information officer of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Towslee attended two recent meetings where Franklin criticized temporary
beach closures to protect the nesting snowy plover.

During one of the meetings in Bandon, Franklin blasted state scientists for
using anecdotal information regarding human threats to the plover, saying
they should yodel future anecdotal information because "it's useless

"A humble occupation" Franklin grew up on a farm in rural Coos County,
graduating from North Bend High School in 1970. She attended several
colleges, majoring in everything from marine biology to journalism but
never completed her degree.

The twice-divorced 50-year-old raised her 18-year-old daughter by herself
on the outskirts of Coos Bay.

She was a sales and marketing representative before jumping into the
male-dominated timber business in the 1980s. Franklin ran Pacific Timber
Marketing Agency, which bought hardwood and sold it to East Coast veneer
manufacturers. She was also a logging consultant, helping small timber
owners get the best price for their trees.

Franklin doesn't forget her first day on the job. Dressed in a new flannel
shirt, jeans and boots, she backed her truck onto a landing at a logging
site as several men looked on. Franklin stepped out of her truck, uncertain
of the reception she would get.

"I take two steps and my boot hooks onto a limb," she said. "My feet go out
from under me. I'm on my butt in the mud humiliated."

But the moment worked to her advantage as a longtime logger came to help.

"I look up and there's this giant hand reaching down and lifting me to my
feet, and he said, 'It's a humble occupation. We all do it every day.' "

Franklin loved her new career. She was never one of the guys, and she
didn't want to be. Franklin retained her femininity by wearing a camisole
under her flannel shirt and eye makeup.

Franklin was doing well until the timber industry faltered, taking her
business with it. Pacific Timber is "alive but not well," she said.

The northern spotted owl controversy in the 1990s pulled Franklin into the
world of government rules and regulations because she saw how it would
affect rural economies.

"They were saying, 'All we're going to do is protect these owls and it's
really not going to impact anyone very much,' " said Franklin. "I said,
'Don't you people know anything about economics?' "

Next she fought the federal 4-D rule, which attempted to limit logging on
certain private lands.

"It was pretty oppressive stuff," Franklin said. "That's when I started
reading laws."

Looking out for farmers The Agriculture Water Quality Management Plan is
among Franklin's latest fights.

Her chief concern is the financial toil on farmers. The plan, which alters
farming practices to improve water quality, is estimated to cost Coos
County farmers $35 an acre to meet the requirements for their livestock
operations. A farmer with 2,000 acres of grazing land could pay $70,000 for
improvements to comply, Franklin said.

Local residents blame similar confined-livestock regulations for pushing at
least 10 Coos County dairies out of business since 1996.

For most people, reading laws and legal citations is a headache at best.
For Franklin, it's a puzzle, with each reference to another law or bill as
a piece of the grander picture.

"When I first started, everything would fade into a blur, but I stuck with
it," she said. Now, she cites laws from memory.

Franklin's life surprises even her sometimes.

"I always considered myself afraid of everything," she said. "I just don't
know how I turned out the way I did."

But Franklin's friends say they have never seen the fearful, hesitant side
of her. They know her as a tough, independent woman who defies convention.

"When you offer her help, she hesitates," said friend Ron Looby. "If she
can do it herself, she will just do it."

Franklin has sailed in the ocean by herself and repairs or builds nearly
anything she needs. She built the barn that houses the family horse. She
overhauled a riding lawnmower, fixed the plumbing on her mobile home and
frequently repairs her pickup.

"I've always had more time than money, so I've had to learn how to fix
everything myself," she said.

She's won a lot of supporters in Coos County. Retired tree farmer Mel
McKinney tried to get Franklin to run for state office, but she turned him

"She's not sitting on her butt waiting for someone to do something. She's
out doing it," McKinney said.

Franklin still isn't satisfied with the agriculture water plan, but the
agriculture department passed it in February.

Still, some good came from it -- a job. Impressed by her research into
water-quality laws, the Salem-based Western Institute for Nature,
Resources, Education and Policy hired her.

The organization investigates the applications of laws compared to their
intent and makes the information available to the public for free, said
Loydee Stonebrink, one of its founders.

"She's really fun to work with because she's so enthused," Stonebrink said.

Franklin says she couldn't be happier. Now, she's paid to do what she
loves. You can reach Wendy Owen at 541-751-0516 or by e-mail at


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