A call to action for clean air

An editorial on the front page is a departure for this newspaper, but the Mail Tribune Editorial Board believes the wildfire smoke that has plagued our valley in recent summers is the biggest threat to our economy and the livability of Southern Oregon that we have ever seen.

We want to change that.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers, nor do we think there is one magic solution that will bring a sudden end to the smoke. But we call on the vested interests on all sides of the forest management debate — who have been arguing for decades on how much to log, thin or let burn — need to stop digging in their heels and come to a consensus on meaningful action. Now.

The latest salvo in the timber wars was fired recently when a group of academic scientists representing the environmental movement sent a letter to Congress objecting to pro-logging amendments in the 2018 Farm Bill. Another group of scientists objects to provisions calling for more post-fire salvage logging.

The timber industry, meanwhile, wants to increase commercial timber harvest levels, arguing that will make forests more resilient and wildfires less severe.

There seems to be general agreement that a century of aggressive fire suppression coupled with clearcut logging and replanting has resulted in overgrown forests, and years of drier winters and hotter summers brought on by climate change have led to bigger, more destructive wildfires. A combination of thinning, brush removal and prescribed burning also seems to have general support.

But where to thin, how much to cut and burn and how to pay for it are where the various voices part ways.

In our view, the most promising approach comes from the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, which produced a proposed strategy calling for thinning 1.1 million acres, including some large trees, and ramping up prescribed burns in fall and spring to reduce flammable material.

The plan, shaped by a coalition of federal agencies, conservationists, business and community leaders, landowners and foresters, proposes thinning and fuels reduction on 25 percent of the Rogue Basin over 20 to 30 years. The group estimates that could reduce wildfire risk as much as 70 percent, while putting 1,700 people to work, directly and indirectly.

It won’t be the only answer, but it’ll be a good start.

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden want to emphasize thinning projects in the Senate version of the Farm Bill. Specifically, Merkley wants to double the dollars available for thinning from the last Farm Bill. Rep. Greg Walden backs the House version, which would make it easier to log 6,000-acre tracts, and wants to increase salvage logging after fires. Wyden and Merkley say some provisions in the House bill would invite lawsuits. We agree; delay is the last thing that’s needed now.

We can transform our forests over time to withstand hotter, drier conditions without erupting into conflagrations that threaten to make our region unlivable two to three months out of the year. What we need to do it: Action, not argument. Adequate funding, not partisan games.

It will take pressure on our congressional leaders to provide the money we need to adequately prepare our forests for the future and save this region from choking smoke that threatens our health and livelihoods.

Are you with us?

Send your demands for action to:

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

2182 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515

Email on website: https://walden.house.gov/contact-greg/email-me

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden

223 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Email on website: wyden.senate.gov/contact

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

313 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Email on website: merkley.senate.gov/contact

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