Home Opinion Editorials MERA fire protection agreement makes sense
MERA fire protection agreement makes sense
Union County and the Oregon Department of Forestry showed great common
sense recently by working out a special fire prevention agreement for
the Mount Emily Recreation Area.
The pact, approved by the county board of commissioners last Wednesday, gives off-highway vehicle operators more freedom to enjoy MERA trails than they would normally have during ODF-mandated regulated use closures.
The MERA is built at least in part for those who love riding ATVs, motorcycles and other OHVs off the beaten paths. In fact, Union County bought the MERA land with money from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s ATV fund.
For at least some intents and purposes, the MERA is an ATV park. It’s fitting that the county and the ODF went to extra lengths to make sure it is open for use as much as possible. In this case, some exceptions to the usual rules of fire season are in order.
On ODF-protected lands during regulated use closures, motor vehicle use is prohibited except on improved roads or for the commercial culture or harvest of crops.
But under the agreement, during regulated use closures MERA users may ride on designated roads and trails that are clear of flammable debris. People riding ATVs and motorcycles will not be required to carry a shovel or fire extinguisher, though those in jeeps will be.
Bear in mind, some other regulated use closure rules will apply all the time. People still will not be allowed to smoke while traveling in vehicles, including ATVs and motorcycles. Requirements prohibiting campfires, including in MERA campgrounds, would also be adhered to.
Of course, when ODF declares extreme fire danger, all off-highway use on the MERA is suspended. Roads and trails are closed, period. The only exception is use of the Mount Emily County Road. It is up to the county to inform MERA users of extreme fire danger, and enforce the suspension.
Agreements by nature always go two ways. Here, in return for the concessions, the county is accepting responsibility for fire prevention.
The county is expected to enforce requirements for spark arrestors and adequate exhaust systems, and also to educate the public about fire safety.
That doesn’t mean, though, that users surrender their individual responsibilities. In the end, responsibility for wildfire prevention belongs to us all.
All those things Smokey the Bear taught us still apply, all through the fire season. Be properly equipped, be careful with cigarettes, build campfires only where they’re allowed, make sure campfires are dead out before leaving them. Be aware of forest conditions, know local, state and federal rules and obey them.
This year, Northeast Oregon has been lucky when it comes to wildfires. Lightning strikes caused a few fires in the region, but damage has been comparatively light.
Let’s all work to keep it that way, on the MERA and elsewhere. Let’s honor the land by being careful.