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By Court Boice, Curry County Commissioner
In the wake of the Chetco Bar Fire, I wrote the following letter to Rob MacWhorter, supervisor for the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest, and Tina Lanier, a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service Gold Beach District:
I feel you have an opportunity now to demonstrate to local officials and the public that we are being heard and that the voice and concerns of local citizens really is an important consideration when making decisions relating to our public lands.
I view it as a chance for you to offer a change of direction and even heart from the management of the Forest Service (USFS) — something that is sorely needed right now. Here are just a few issues important to our citizens that I need your help with immediately.
Gates, barriers and road closures
I’m very concerned about USFS road blockages with present and future gate placements related to the fire activity. Once gates go in, they have a way of staying forever and I find that unnecessary and unacceptable. The public has the right to reasonable and generally unhindered access.
These roads opened and/or used during this fire operation should be left unobstructed, ideally maintained and not blocked by gates, tank traps, berms or rocks. Also, anything damaged in the fire, such as bridges, should be repaired or replaced immediately. We definitely need these roads for 2018 (now only nine months away) and future fire seasons.
History tells us we will get fires in these areas, and it is foolish — even irresponsible — to intentionally block them, causing certain delay in critical future firefighting efforts.
Public roads cannot be gated in our county without Curry County Board of Commissioners consent, (with the exception of the Port Orford cedar root rot transportation), but even those are limited to the wet weather season, and only around pristine groves.
Frankly, those closures should be reassessed periodically as well, based on current POC mapping, to ensure they are still valid. Otherwise you are restricting public access in perpetuity, without reasonable cause.
Blocking roads within or adjacent to the fire area is fundamentally unacceptable, and I will not entertain a discussion on semantics regarding what is officially a “road” in the eyes of the Forest Service.
I see through the eyes of the citizens we serve. Needlessly spending even more valuable resources placing barriers to roadways — roads that will clearly be needed for future fire suppression — is shortsighted.
Blocking roads in the name of public safety is insulting at this point in time, especially considering the size of this footprint and the fact that your own firefighting resources have been working in those areas and driving those roads. The winter weather will surely have an effect, but falling trees is always a consideration when accessing forest roads in the stormy season. Known hazard trees adjacent to the roadway should have already been dealt with, and if not, that should be done now.
Please provide me with detailed information on current or planned road restrictions of any kind, prior to taking action. Blocking access only feeds the current climate of citizen distrust. There is growing concern about what is happening behind the closures still in place, and the fear that once they can finally gain access, it will be too late.
While there is usually minimal value in the true hazard trees near roads, there is significant value in the damaged timber within the fire area — but, only if it is removed and sent to market swiftly. This is an important beginning of the Curry recovery. Securing the value of that timber for our citizens who have already lost so much is critical.
Please provide me with detailed plans and timelines for salvage of our valuable resources, including assurance that the county will receive our appropriate share of the revenue.
In light of this tragic loss of our beautiful forests, please prevent further insult by allowing bureaucracy, indecision and a business-as-usual approaches to slow this work to the point that the wise harvest is lost. The typical timber sale timeline cannot be used in this case.
South Coast Lumber is already moving out salvaged material. Oregon State Forestry is also working with private landowners to expedite salvage and mortality as well as critical erosion prevention. I would expect the USFS to use emergency provisions to speed up your process and do the same. Should I be able to assist by alerting our state and federal officials of the need to cut red tape or relax requirements to ensure this resource is not squandered, please advise me immediately and I will do all that I can.
Home replacement and private property recovery
The USFS needs to make this right. These people have been through unimaginable suffering and loss — this fire started in the national forest, far from their property, yet through flawed management, grew into a mega-fire. Therefore, you are responsible for all private land and structure rehabilitation and replacement. Please provide information on that process.
I believe a claims liaison should be assigned to assist citizens and property owners. This would be a subject-matter expert who would act as a contact to provide unbiased assistance. Please don’t impact citizens further by requiring them to go through unfriendly and unhelpful bureaucratic requirements.
Chetco River commercial and public access
I am concerned about the launch sites within the burned area of the Chetco Bar Fire. Access is important to private fisherman as well as our local fishing guides and economy, all of which have been hard hit by the Chetco Bar Fire; again your responsibility. Re-opening Miller Bar, Nook Bar, Redwood Bar and the South Fork should be a top priority of the USFS. Please provide an update on your plans for these sites.
To summarize my requests, please provide me with the requested information on roads, salvage, claims and Chetco River launch site access in the next few business days.
Show the citizens of this remarkable county that you hear and respect their voice.