Curry County Commissioners on Wednesday defeated 2-1 a proposal to support a Jackson County public land resolution that would require wildfires on federal lands to be extinguished immediately and ban controlled burns when state bans are in effect — a situation currently allowed on those lands.
Commissioner Court Boice was the sole vote for the proposal.
Tim Palmer of Port Orford said the document needs more work, as many of the sentences in the resolution don’t make sense.
He asked why a resolution was needed to continue working with other agencies during disasters — “I think you already do this,” he said — what the “paths to solutions” might be, how “best science” differs from “best available science” and why the county would “continue to actively cooperate when in circumstances in which coordination is not applicable.”
“This doesn’t make a bit of sense,” Palmer said. “When would ‘coordination’ be ‘not applicable?’ And if so, why would you resolve them to ‘continue to cooperate’? It’s important to know what’s being proposed here.”
What concerns him the most is an item that calls for legislative mandates restricting the ability of organizations from performing services as a partner with a federal agency, he said. That could include groups such as the Wild Rivers Forest Collaborative, watershed councils, the Wild Rivers Land Trust and others.
“I don’t know what’s intended, but what this says is that the commissioners would support law to stop organizations from working in partnerships with the federal government,” Palmer said. “When you considered this resolution last year, many citizens appeared in opposition. Here it is again. I’m shocked that such heavy-handed overreach of government power over the freedom of county citizens would even surface in Curry County, let alone be proposed for a vote today.”
The resolution sponsored by Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts cites problems created by the federal policies. Her board has the backing of the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“NACo supports the immediate revocation, rescission and revision of all USFS and BLM policies that allow lightning-caused wildfires to burn, and that permit prescribed fires … during a wildfire season,” the resolution reads. “NACo supports the adoption of policies requiring those agencies to solely focus on full suppression of wildfires (on federal land) and prohibiting the use of prescribed fires during a state-declared wildfire season.”
Many in Curry County felt current federal forest policy that allow wildfires to burn in designated wilderness areas — among some other factors — were to blame for the 2017 Chetco Bar Fire exploding in a matter of days into a catastrophic megafire. The federal agencies, too, often conduct prescribed burns on federal lands after the fire season has been declared over; many in Curry County felt the state proclamation was enacted too early and lands were still too dry to allow such burns.
The resolution points out the federal government owns almost 53 percent of the land in Oregon and citizens, along with others in similar ownership situations — ranging from 85 percent in Nevada to 28.5 percent in Washington — have disproportionately suffered the repercussions.
“The Western states have suffered historic wildfires over the past several years and a significant portion for which the source of ignition is on federal lands,” the resolution reads. “These wildfires, the related smoke and other impacts have a dramatic impact on the health, safety and welfare of the residents of these states.
“Residents’ real and personal property and health are put at an enhanced risk when wildfires are allowed to burn and prescribed fires are ignited during state-declared wildfire seasons,” the document continues. “While prescribed burns are useful management tools for federal agencies, such burns should not be permitted when health, safety and welfare are already at jeopardy due to wildfire season contributions.”
“If you lived in the Rogue Valley, you know why this makes sense,” said Commissioner Court Boice. “We lack the effort to prevent fires. Curry County is burning up, and it’s affecting our way of life. The county is at a great risk.
“We have people in Brookings who want to sue the Forest Service for mismanagement of the Chetco Bar Fire,” he continued. “They don’t feel that way about the Klondike because they were on it right away.”
Barnes said he understands the need to support Jackson County, but noted that while they have an array of reforestation and fire plans in place — none of which include Curry — Curry County is still merely talking.
“All we’re doing here is having another meeting,” Barnes said. “Their plans are for direct action. People are doing things to reduce fire risk, and we need to do it. Nothing is holding us back from this. It’s time to get off our butts; all we do is talk about it. It’s time to stop talking and start doing.”
Boice reminded citizens of the times when he sat on the last board and unsuccessfully tried to bring fire mitigation issues to the forefront of discussion, but was shot down. Commissioner Chris Paasch said people are meeting with Forest Supervisor Merv George Jr., and long-time locals to better understand how fires work in Curry County.
Paasch said he’s flying to Washington, D.C., to meet with Oregon legislators.
“I’ve got a loud voice,” he said. “I’m not afraid to ask for things. I will be banging on the door, not knocking.”
And in that time, Barnes said, fire season creeps closer and there are no ads in the paper looking for people to thin the forests.
“The word ‘fire’ is not in this resolution,” Palmer said. “Nowhere in here anywhere is the word ‘fire’ mentioned. If you want to take action, write it up so we can understand this.”