Diane Werich often wears a mask to help control her asthma, but on smoky days caused by controlled forest burning, she has to stay indoors.

What if this is the new normal?

Calling this summer’s wildfire and smoke “emotionally and financially devastating,” state Rep. Pam Marsh is organizing a three-hour cram-course — the Smoke and Fire Summit — to hear and help shape strategies for forest management, health impacts, economic remedies and climate change.

The summit features 15 local and statewide speakers from government agencies, universities, nonprofits and forestry, tourism and business interests, including legislator Marsh, who serves on the House Energy and Environment and Economic Development and Trade committees.

The summit will be from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at Southern Oregon University’s Stevenson Union, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

“This will give us the opportunity to come together and plan how to mitigate, adapt and become a more resilient community in the face of the persistent threat of wildfire and smoke,” said Marsh, a Democrat from Ashland who’s running for re-election against Medford Republican Sandra Abercrombie in November.

“We feel pretty beat up by this summer and business has taken a big hit. It’s easy to feel helpless, but that’s not productive. There are things we can do to better adapt and make ourselves more resilient in the face of multiple threats.”

Marsh said the panels will survey forest management models and “what they look like on the ground in our part of the world.” They will examine both individual and community health issues, she said, even the possibility of shelters from smoke.

With area businesses reporting a significant loss of income for almost two months, the panels will examine what state assistance might be available, Marsh said. “What guidance can we get for business on the direct impacts and how should we think differently about the tourist industry, which is very dependent on the summer season?”

Former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who is a teacher in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps and will be a presenter at the summit, said in an interview that the huge amount of burned acreage and smoke is “caused in large part” by climate change, which is bringing more dramatic rainfall in winter and more heat and drying in summer.

The next Legislature, said Bradbury, a longtime past legislator, can help reduce greenhouse gases by capping carbon emissions and investing in clean energy. “Then we can start to slow the temperature increase, but if it’s business as usual, temperatures will go up, and wildfire and winter rainstorms will worsen.”

Bradbury emphasized that the world can act in an emergency, as it did by banning the refrigerant freon, with no government forcing it to do it, but “I wouldn’t hold my breath because of the current administration. However, a lot of corporations, nationally and internationally, recognize their future depends on getting control on climate and they’re working to reduce their pollution.”

The forestry and agriculture industries, he said, will be bringing some new strategies to the summit.

Bill Thorndike, president of Medford Fabrication who will moderate at the summit, said in an interview that if summer smoke is the new normal, then “we’ve got to understand what type of programs and planning can help small business work its way through it.”

“What can we do from an economic development point of view to respond more adequately and think differently?” he said.

The region’s lower-income workforce is experiencing a “quite dramatic” impact from the smoke — and, he added, the tourist industry may have to move its focus indoors.

In addition, he said, new technology is coming up with answers to thinning brush-choked forests, where fire suppression has been practiced for over a century.

Sandra Slattery, executive director of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber and city government over the past three years have worked together, educated the community, and prepared for better air in the workplace via a fire prevention task force, but “after last summer, we realized we’re not prepared (for the large amount of smoke).”

Slattery added, “With this summit, we’re realizing climate is everyone’s responsibility. We’re all breathing the same air and we’re all responsible for the strategies we will come up with. We can’t throw our hands up in the air and walk away. All these people (at the summit) have different parts of the answers.

“Emotionally, it’s pretty huge, then you add the economy part on top and it’s a triple blow. We have to all be on the same page and work together. It’s not going to be easy or quick, but we’ve got to try. Our community is really caring people who want to improve life and the environment of this place we love.”

Marsh said wildfire and smoke will be a major conversation in the Legislative session starting this January. “It’s just unrolling now. It will be about what is required to make our communities safer and how to fund that work. That’s our first need and that’s why we’re having this summit. We’re not going to emerge with a blueprint for action but with a multitude of different conversations that need to happen.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at


The Smoke and Fire Summit will be from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at Southern Oregon University’s Stevenson Union, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

The forest management session includes:

— Chris Dunn, research associate for Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, who will explain the history of forest development and why the impact of fire is so severe today.

— Mark Webb, executive director of Blue Mountain Forest Partners, who will share a model and lessons of collaborative work in Eastern Oregon.

— Marko Bey, Lomakatsi Restoration Project executive director and board member of Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, who will discuss the work being done locally, and opportunities for stewardship agreements in the Rogue Basin.

— Don Ferguson, area resident and retired Natural Resources staff administrator for the Bureau of Land Management, who will moderate.

The impacts of smoke on human and community health will be addressed by:

— Lillian Shirley, Public Health Division director for the Oregon Health Authority.

— Jackson Baures, manager for Jackson County Public Health.

— Richard Leman, M.D., chief medical officer for OHA Health Security Preparedness and Response.

— Belle Shepherd, OHA Coordinated Care Organizations Innovator Agent for four Southern Oregon counties, who will moderate.

Regional economic experts on creating resilience in a business environment impacted by ongoing smoke and fire include:

— Alex Campbell, Southern Oregon Regional Solutions coordinator for Gov. Kate Brown’s office, on resources and assistance available through the state.

— Janet Soto Rodriguez, entrepreneurship strategist with Business Oregon, on how communities can innovate to build resilience, sharing examples of rural communities that have taken on the challenge of “rethinking themselves.”

— Ashland Chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery, who will address concrete protective actions here, as well as the need to “rethink how we market to the tourism industry.”

— Bill Thorndike, president of Medford Fabrication and board member of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., who will moderate and summarize strategies presented by economic panelists.

Presenters for the scientific community and policy leaders include:

— Bill Bradbury, former Oregon Secretary of State and appointee to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, who will discuss the relationship between climate change and forest health as well as public policies to achieve targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

— Kaola Swanson, Oregon program director for Pacific Forest Trust, on policies that can help stabilize and support “working lands” and incentivize sustainable forestry.

— Shaun Franks, sales and marketing manager for local solar installer True South Solar, who will moderate.

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