Summer is now officially underway. We can all recall last summer, when catastrophic wildfires touched and torched nearly every corner of Oregon. Devastation was literally everywhere, and much of it remains to this very day.
The small town of Gates, in the Santiam Canyon, is gone and has started the long rebuilding process. In Southern Oregon, a fire left a substantial scar throughout downtown Phoenix and Talent, burning and destroying businesses and homes alike.
Locally, we choked on smoke and faced evacuations as many Clackamas County residents were threatened by fires that came far too close for comfort. That was followed, months later, by ice storms that fell countless trees in and beyond our county.
A relatively dry winter, with limited snowpack and not nearly enough accumulated rainfall, are all contributing to the expectation that this fire season could be just as bad and even worse.
There have been some encouraging signs along the way, though.
In years past, the push to salvage burned areas, pull dead timber out and replant new, young, healthy trees has been met with a brick wall of resistance by environmental organizations. They’ve fought ferociously to halt any salvage attempts by filing lawsuits.
Even in the instances when the courts threw those suits out, correctly recognizing them as frivolous, they dragged the process out for long enough that the timber became no longer economically viable.
Now, we seem to know better. Efforts were made to aggressively salvage many of the areas that burned last year. Predictably, the same kind of lawsuits were filed by environmentalists. But they were largely shut down in court and the salvage activity has continued.
Many of us have been saying for years that managing forests in the first place is the best way to prevent these fires from happening. That way of thinking seems to be catching on, as more Oregonians become adversely impacted from the fires and the toxic air conditions that they create.
Obviously, there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, on the forest floor, as well as at our state capitol in Salem and our nation’s capitol Washington D.C. It took decades to get these poor policies in place, and it will take time to replace them with better ones.
But the momentum for change is growing and seems to have reached a critical mass. I just pray that we won’t see more devastation before that happens. I’m not sure how many more fires and close calls this state can afford to have.
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