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Walden: 'Enough is enough'

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s tone in a speech on wildfires and clean air to the Chamber of Jackson County/ Medford on Monday afternoon was far from dampened by the steady rain.

The congressman repeatedly pointed to forest management measures that he believes hold the keys to conquering smoky summer skies in Southern Oregon.

“Enough is enough,” he said.

Walden’s speech was initially peppered with a grim recitation of statistics showing the toll that wildfire smoke has taken across the state, especially in Southern Oregon.

That included data from a Travel Oregon report which estimates that Jackson County represented $3 million of a $51.5 million statewide loss from the tourism industry in 2017 due to wildfire smoke.

He also noted specific local businesses and industries that took hits, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and its $2 million loss from last summer, as well as local wineries that had to scramble after a $4 million contract with a California buyer was spiked due to purported smoke taint in the grapes last fall.

On the health-related side, the congressman cited research from the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado State University that links wildfire smoke to premature deaths.

The EPA estimates wildfire smoke can be linked to 2,500 premature deaths every year, while the Colorado State University research puts that number as high as 25,000.

“No one wants to be outside during the summer months in Southern Oregon anymore because of the smoke from wildfires, and for good reason,” he said.

Beyond pointing to the factors driving a need for action on smoke, Walden came armed with potential solutions that he said that he will continue to push for in Congress.

In Monday’s speech, he framed his recommendations for more active forest management in the context of its link to climate change and reduced carbon emissions.

“We’re all hearing a lot about climate change,” Walden said. “Global warming, Green New Deal and more.

“As the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, I’m using the attention this issue is getting to argue for federal forest management reforms. I’m working to prove there’s a better way to reduce emissions than through taxation, over-regulation, which I think eventually leads to economic stagnation,” he said.

He cited research from the Nature Conservancy and Forest Service, which states that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent and the carbon emissions from wildfires by up to 85 percent.

Other research the congressman pointed to tied more specifically to the issue of fire salvaging, where agencies enter the burn scars in the wake of wildfire and remove dead biomass. The process to do so on federal lands is narrow and can be measured in years rather than months.

“By the way, we do that on state land; we do that on county land, and you certainly do it on private forestland,” Walden said. “And it’s past time we did that on federal forestland as well.”

Walden pushed for such provisions to be included in the newest update to the Farm Bill, which passed in December 2018 after partisan gridlock delayed it. By the time the House and Senate versions agreed, the provisions for expedited post-fire salvaging had been stripped out.

Brad Hicks, president and CEO of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, applauded Walden for those efforts.

“I cannot think of anyone who’s done more for this region, even if it’s crashed into the rocks — what, eight, nine last sessions of Congress that you’ve introduced legislation to do something about this?” he said. “I appreciate your leadership there.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune U.S. Rep. Greg Walden gave a speech on what he is doing to help fight summer wildfire smoke in the Rogue Valley at the Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.