Wood heat role here important

By Observer editorial December 03, 2012 03:12 pm

Two stories appeared in a recent Observer a couple pages apart but were closely related. People concerned about time-honored Northeast Oregon traditions  should take note of both.

One story gave enlightening facts about Wallowa County folks who burn wood to heat their homes. The story told how a group called The Woodcutters sent out 4,100 questionnaires in an attempt to determine just how dependent people in the county are on firewood. 

Twenty-seven percent of the surveys came back. Of those, 79 percent of households said they burn wood for heat, and 22 percent of that number use wood exclusively. 

More significantly, 90 percent of those surveyed said firewood is a necessity for them.

It’s certain that if all the questionnaires were returned, the numbers would still be high. Any way you look at it, access to firewood is vital to the people of Wallowa County, just as it is vital to the people of Union and Baker counties, to all the communities that lie close to the Wallowa-Whitman National

Which brings us to the other article in the paper, the one that tells how the Forest’s travel management plan is still on hold and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Six months have passed since then-Forest Supervisor Monica Schwalbach made the decision to withdraw the plan and start over. She pulled it after a long and loud public outcry over the proposed road closures. 

A vocal majority of local people said the travel management plan as written — closing over
half of road mileage now open — was a clear and present threat to the quality of life in Northeast Oregon. 

They were right in so many ways. Almost all of us work and play in the Forest, and use its bountiful resources.

A Forest Service spokeswoman, Jodi Kramer, said in the other recent article that the deadline for issuing a new travel management record of decision is late 2015, and also said the agency plans to take its time. 

Kevin Martin, Schwalbach’s successor, continues to sound out local residents and explore issues connected with possible road closures.

The Wallowa County survey should give him something to chew on. People burn firewood to save on utility bills that keep on climbing, and for some, seniors especially, the money saved is the difference between eating well, or eating poorly.

Balancing environmental concerns with traditional use of the forest is a tough job, and we don’t envy those who have to do it. 

But whatever the new travel management plan looks like when it’s done, the community’s access to an adequate supply of firewood should be rigorously protected.