F ire season! Good news if you like fire, bad news if you like California. Comedian John Oliver made this joke on his comedy news podcast “The Bugle” the weekend that a wildfire forced my family to evacuate our Los Angeles suburb 11 years ago.
Wildfires have come to dominate the summer skies of the American West in recent decades, and they are not going away unless manmade and natural causes are addressed. Climate change is causing more severe fires, and humans are not applying the preventative maintenance necessary to mitigate the effects of increasingly lengthy fire seasons. California is leading the way in innovation for sustainable forest management, and Oregon needs to follow its model for the benefit of all residents, including our K-12 students.
California’s “Carbon Forest Plan,” released in May 2018, takes note of the causes of wildfires and their effects on humans, including poor air quality. Preventing intense fire seasons in the Golden State’s future, however, will require the restoration of 15 million acres of forest land, 10 million acres of which is managed by the federal government. As of October 17, 54 percent of California land damaged by wildfires this year was owned by the federal government. In response, the Carbon Forest Plan advocates key steps to be taken in concert with the federal government in order to clear forests and raise revenue.
By 2020, California plans to expand forest restoration and fuel treatment efforts from 17,500 acres per year to 35,000 acres annually, before growing to 60,000 per year by 2020. Recognizing the federal government’s need to get involved, California also named forest restoration goals for land owned by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Adopting a Carbon Forest Plan for Oregon offers the benefits of protecting the environment, maintaining healthy air quality, raising revenue for education and growing the state economy.
With the memory of this summer’s fires still fresh on our minds, we can all see the benefits of better managing state lands. Under Article VIII of the state constitution, a large portion of Oregon’s public lands are to be used to raised revenue for the Common School Fund under the trusteeship of the State Land Board composed of the governor, secretary of state, and state treasurer.
The revenue raised from harvesting excess timber will provide the dual benefits of better schools and economic growth because Article VIII also mandates that all timber logged on state lands be processed in Oregon (unless the state has a surplus of timber).
An additional component of California’s plan involves supporting local governments in their management of urban forests, an approach that Oregon should replicate. Locally, citizens can participate in the City of La Grande appointed Community Landscape and Forestry Commission that “serves as an advocate of the City’s urban forest and encourages improvements through long-term planning and policy development.”
The Observer prints contact information for our elected officials in the opinion section, and individuals interested in refocusing Oregon’s wildfire mitigation efforts should consider contacting state legislators and federal lawmakers to urge cooperation modeled on California’s plan. As always, significant policy changes will not occur unless we get involved by contacting our elected officials or taking up leadership positions ourselves.
Fire season will never be completely eradicated, but through civic action we can make sure it is not bad news for people who like California, Oregon and the rest of our dear Pacific Northwest.
Alex is the former chair of the Eastern Oregon University College Republicans. A graduate of EOU and College of the Canyons in Valencia, California, he is a veteran of multiple local, state, and national campaigns, including Bud Pierce for Oregon Governor, and Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio for President.