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Wild Side: The top local environmental stories of 2018

As the year ends, I am reminded to take stock and ask the question, “What on earth happened this past year?” These days it seems like so much is happening, I can hardly take stock of the last week. So, I looked back and compiled the top five environmental stories of 2018. Here are the top five stories:

Wild Story No. 5: The absolute inability of Congress to do anything, including any action to protect Oregon’s wild rivers and other special places, should be important news to everyone. There is serious gridlock in this branch of government. That means all the policies and actions that cover vast swaths of public lands, wildlife, and rivers are also in gridlock.

For example, Oregon’s senators and House members have attempted to protect a small sample of special places through the “Oregon Wildlands” bill. It has been debated and passed out of committees, with wide support for over a decade. The short list of areas considered for modest conservation protections in Southern Oregon are the Wild Rogue River and an area on the upper Chetco River now threatened by mining.

Wild Story No. 4: It is not every year you get to say that a new species was discovered right in your backyard — but we do this year! We often think of some far away jungle where we might discover new species, so it is pretty special when we find one in our own region. A new mushroom was discovered by Scot Loring on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management right outside of Ashland growing in an oak savanna near Keene Creek Ridge. This is an area within the Cascade-Siskiyou National monument. The fungi is in the genus Cortinarius, which includes about 1,000 species.

Wild Story No. 3: In the good news category, our esteemed President Donald Trump was threatening to go after National Monuments, but thankfully (like most of his policies), he did not succeed. Back in 2017, Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended changes to monuments, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument outside of Ashland. There were rumors this might happen in 2018 but, due in part to the outpouring of support from the local community, Trump has yet to act on those recommendations and the monument protections stay intact.

Wild Story No. 2: The 2018 fire season was tragic, both in terms of the loss of lives and to the health of all of us breathing in the smoke. But the real story is always how we respond to tragic events. President Trump’s response was to tweet about the need to stop letting rivers flow to the ocean and to rake forests. While these are both ridiculous propositions, there have been some positive conversations around fire, community protection and forest management that have taken place since the fire season. With the likelihood that climate change will lead to more fire seasons like 2018, this issue is not going away. We must come together as a community to implement real solutions to keep people safe, restore forests and adapt to the new climate reality.

Wild Story No. 1: Climate change is real. It is here. There is really nothing more important. Most recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report this year about the impacts we will see if we don’t take bold action to address climate change. We need to act now to turn the tide of climate-induced global catastrophe. This is a wakeup call if there ever has been one, but as a nation we are going backwards by focusing more on fossil fuels development like the proposed LNG pipeline across Southern Oregon.

As we look to 2019, what can we all do to make a future for life on the planet habitable for this and future generations? OK: Now to those new year’s resolutions.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

The IPCC report on climate change warns that we need to take bold action to prevent the worst climate outcomes. Photo by NASA