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Fuel reduction is the answer to fire prevention

Everybody is concerned about fire. It destroys lives and property, kills wildlife and harms fish and water quality. The smoke destroys tourism, hurts home sales and endangers the health and well being of every Oregonian.

NBC 5 news reported there were a dozen fires in Medford alone over the Fourth of July weekend. There were two fires on the Bear Creek Greenway. Two years ago a fire escaped the Greenway and threatened hundreds of homes in Central Point. Ten years ago the Oak Knoll fire destroyed 11 homes and a battalion chief with Ashland Fire and Rescue eventually succumbed to his injuries and died as a result of that fire. Locally, the hills of Ashland, Jacksonville, east Medford, Griffin Creek, Old Military Road and Johns Peak are all at high risk of a devastating fire, as is the entire town of Gold Hill.

Prevention

Fire prevention through logging and fuel reduction is the answer. Creating strategic fuel breaks along roads and in forests and wildlands will help Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Forest Service crews suppress fires before they become uncontrollable conflagrations.

As an example, the current policy that restricts salvage logging after a fire must be eliminated. Once a forest is burned the trees must be cut and shipped to mills as soon as possible. Dead trees left in the forest simply create a huge fuel load for the next fire, making new fires, years later, in those areas impossible to fight.

We recently saw this in the burn scar of the Biscuit fire and in Douglas County where firefighters were not able to attack a fire due to the dangers of rolling snags left from a fire years earlier. Firefighters had no choice but to pull back for safety and let the fire burn.

Had the earlier fire been salvage logged and properly rehabbed immediately following the fire years before, firefighters could have attacked and suppressed that fire.

We are having California-type fires in Oregon, but we needn’t suffer a Carr fire or Camp fire type of tragedy where hundreds or thousands of homes and lives are lost. I would encourage the president to follow California’s example, where Gavin Newsom signed an emergency executive order to eliminate environmental reviews of strategic fuel reduction projects to protect urban areas under the threat of catastrophic fires.

Funding

The Oregon Constitution requires that state lands be managed for the benefit of Oregonians through logging. This was recently reinforced by the state Supreme Court.

Federal law requires a share of logging proceeds go to the counties in Oregon. That’s why we ended up with federal payments to counties in lieu of logging to replace the funds that were lost when logging on federal lands was curtailed.

Logging proceeds were dedicated to fund schools, mental health, law enforcement and other county services, keeping property taxes low and helping to make Oregon an affordable place to live. Now, a greater burden has been placed on the taxpayers, who must directly fund schools, mental health and law enforcement through onerous property taxes and fund ODF as well through state income taxes. ODF is drastically underfunded and lacking the manpower and equipment to respond and suppress the types of fires we have in Oregon today.

Solution

We must go back to using the forests to help fund local governments and stop this oppressive tax scheme being perpetuated upon citizens and small businesses.

I recommend that the president lead the way on fire safety and fuel reduction by signing an emergency executive order requiring the Interior Department to submit a plan for fuel reduction through logging sales on federal lands that affect high-risk areas such as Prospect, Diamond Lake, Lake of the Woods, etc., and eliminate or greatly reduce the environmental impact appeals of environmental groups.

Land controlled by state and federal government should work for and profit the people of Oregon as per the state Constitution and the federal agreement. The people of Oregon should not have to work and send their wages and profits to state and federal governments who would rather leave public lands and private property at risk of destruction by sitting on their hands rather than rolling up their sleeves. Stop all the political posturing and get to work keeping Oregon safe, green and prosperous.

Art Kent of Central Point is a former California Department of Forestry and Shasta County firefighter. In 1992, he performed prevention and inspection work along Buena Ventura Drive in Redding, the scene of the Carr fire, advising homeowners about fire risk and defensible space. The last large fire he worked was the Fountain fire in Shasta County, which burned 64,000 acres and 350 homes, at one point consuming 80 acres a minute.

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