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State: La Grande air quality much improved
Woodstove curtailment program has had positive effect
Some good news came out of Tuesday’s hearing on revisions to the state’s smoke management plan: in La Grande, air quality is much improved.
Back in the 1980s, the La Grande area was singled out by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as a non-attainment area for particulate matter in the atmosphere, due mostly to wood burning in the winter time. In 1992, La Grande became a Special Protection Zone in the Oregon Smoke Management Plan.
A rigorous residential woodstove curtailment program went into effect, and prescribed burning in nearby forests was closely monitored. Conditions improved, and La Grande has been in attainment status for particulate matter for a number of years now.
That’s why the area may soon be removed from the list of Special Protection Zones in the state plan, which governs prescribed burning by private landowners and public agencies.
“La Grande’s air quality levels have improved and in winter time there’s an extremely small amount of prescribed burning. It makes us feel confident we can remove the SPZ,” Brian Finneran of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division said following a joint DEQ-Oregon Department of Forestry hearing Tuesday at La Grande’s Cook Memorial Library.
Finneran said air quality is monitored daily on a green-yellow-red scale, and that will continue in the La Grande area as always. Routinely, when particulate levels reach the red zone, prescribed burning in the area is prohibited, and woodstove curtailment goes into effect except for those residents who rely solely on wood for heat.
The Oregon Department of Forestry manages about 150,000 acres of prescribed forestry burning across the state each year, much of it near populated areas. The forestry department is required by state law to have a smoke management plan for prescribed burning, and promulgate rules to carry out the plan.
The state’s smoke management plan is reviewed about every five years, with the forestry department and DEQ having joint authority to approve changes. Tuesday at Cook Memorial Library, the agencies held the first of five public hearings prior to adoption of amendments proposed in a review done between 2012 and 2013.