Curry County Commissioner Court Boice has compiled a three-page letter he plans to send to elected officials in Washington, D.C., that includes a lengthy list of challenges the county faces and that he wants addressed before his term ends.
Boice said highest priority is to address forest management, a quagmire that will likely have to be taken on at the federal level. His concern rose from the ashes of the Chetco Bar and Klondike megafires this summer and last that affected tourism, the economy and the health of residents.
“Add the loss of wildlife habitat, damage to 80 percent of the Brookings-Harbor watershed and many related and residual issues,” Boice said. “Keeping the two South County mills stocked and the 480 people employed there is critical to the Curry economy.”
Boice said he would ideally like to see Curry County get the kind of relief — in the $100 billion range — being received by Texas and Puerto Rico after devastating hurricanes, and California, after wildfires in Paradise and Malibu burned an estimated 14,000 homes.
Some homes were burned in Curry County during the Chetco Bar Fire, but the value of the now-burned timber could be as high as $42 million, Boice said. Other damage suffered included that to survey monuments — the round, metal tabs placed in the ground and used to define land ownership — and salmon hatchery counts at Lost Creek.
Curry County has applied for such help in the past, but distribution of much of that money is doled out based on the monetary damage of losses, and Curry County was unable to meet the minimum threshold.
Boice has been working with the new U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Merv George, showing him how Curry County is different from other areas in the country in terms of terrain, dense foliage and trees many feel could be felled in the name of fire mitigation and to boost the local economy.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I believe we’re headed for even greater risks as we march toward the 2019 fire season,” he said. “The next fire season is only a few months away.”
In his letter, Boice offers nine solutions that could be considered to alleviate the issues.
The first is to reduce ground fuels within 100 feet of “every possible” backcountry road — and that could also put people back to work. He’d also like to reduce the cougar population by half to restore the populations of deer and elk that consume the fuels.
A third solution could be to increase access to roads and trails, making it easier for firefighting agencies to get to wildfires at the site of their ignition, rather than waiting for them to burn through the craggy acreage toward firefighting crews.
Boice said he wants to increase timber sales.
“This is one of the most valuable tools available to stop nuclear fires,” he said of the megafires that have consumed hundreds of thousands of acres in the past two years. “Our trees are growing out of control — we’ll never be able to harvest these trees as fast as they grow.”
Along those lines, he wants the federal government to increase the amount of burned trees for salvage.
“The final ruling on (salvage of) the Chetco Bar Fire was 2.5 percent of the total burned acreage,” Boice said. “Not only is the wanton waste shockingly unacceptable, but it leaves yet a greater level of additional fuel as each dead snag is extremely explosive — and we have literally millions just in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.
“It is crucial that we develop strategies for Southwestern Oregon to reduce fire risk and tie severely limited access and firefighting to post-salvage salvage,” he continued. “The two are not mutually exclusive.”
Boice also wants litigation reform to stop getting in the way of forest management, including easing the process to delist animals from Endangered Species status. Alongside that, Boice wants the National Environmental Policy Act to be changed.
“It is outdated, time-consuming and expensive,” he said. “Implementing realistic amendments that will ultimately be a huge part of the solution — saving our forests.”
He wants to encourage citizens to address fire mitigation in the urban-wildland interface to reduce the threat of fire to personal property.
“We have a unique opportunity to deliver on these policies and promises to our citizens by offering solutions that restore responsible natural resource management and rural timber-based jobs,” he said.”
Other Curry issues
Boice outlined two years ago concerns he’d like addressed before his term ends in two years. Many of them remain on the list today.
They include the high veteran suicide rate, a lack of emergency medical services in the largest city in the county — and the distance people have to drive to get to such care — and the growing homeless population.
He is worried about the slow but steady progress Sudden Oak Death is making north from the south end of the county and how it could negatively affect the economy, the outdated and failing communication towers used by emergency services and damage done to county roads during the wildfires of the past two years.
He would also like to see the state address the continually changing surface of U.S. 101, which is affected by slow landslides and erosion, and the coast’s scenic views that are blocked by “overgrown spruce and other evergreen species.”
Boice is also concerned about rising crime resulting from limited law enforcement funding and poor economic conditions and the opioid crisis, and wants an answer — and possible reparations from the group that might have started it — from the investigation into the Lobster Creek Fire.
Other concerns he has is the lack of mental health care in the county, that the Port Orford School District is one of the most impoverished in the nation and that unemployment remains higher than most of the state’s other 35 counties.