By Court Boice
I am Court Boice, a commissioner and a fourth-generation resident of Curry County, located in the very southwestern corner of Oregon. We are a small, remote and rural area and count the amazing forests here among our most valuable assets.
Curry County is home to the highest quality and fastest growing evergreen trees on the planet — the mighty Douglas fir. Sadly though, our conifer forests are in dire jeopardy due to the ongoing threat of fire.
The past two years have produced more devastating forest fires. I’m looking toward the protection and preservation of our communities and resources. I am also committed to improving federal forest management policies and curtailing future destructive resource loss.
This is a call to action for 2019 and I believe that through the speedy implementation of sound, effective and remedial policy changes, we can unite to interrupt looming tragedies. United, we can turn this around for the good of all, however, Oregon must lead as I believe our entire state is in danger.
Occasional large fires are a well-documented part of our history here, however, recent events are unprecedented. The 2017 Chetco Bar Fire (191,000 acres with nine families losing their homes — we’ve still been unable to get them any assistance) and the 2018 Klondike Fire (175,000 acres), devastated even more large areas of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest — a region once renowned as the most wild, unique, rugged, beautiful, and productive national forest in America.
During the last two fire seasons, Curry County, along with neighboring Josephine County endured the destruction of nearly 450,000 acres. It is estimated that a minimum of 40 years will pass before a healthy forest may emerge in these areas with proper ecological balances in place. However, due to the intensity of these abnormal fires, the Douglas fir and pine trees may never again be able to take root, paving the way for hardwood dominated regeneration to replace our once majestic conifer forests.
Additionally, our poorly managed and incredibly heavy and volatile ground fuels promise a future of more catastrophic fire. We need only look beyond our southern border to the heart-wrenching tragedies in California for the Oregon wake-up calls to the true potential we face. Listen to your rural voices — Oregon is losing more of its rich heritage and at an alarming rate. The deforestation of Curry County and our state must be vigorously combated.
Tragedy and urgency
The collective losses from the Chetco Bar and Klondike Fires are simply astonishing. The meager post-fire salvage effort has added insult to injury and leaves in our backyards — especially mine — more and more explosive fuel loads and by any measure is significantly more than that of California. I believe the argument can be made that this is a national security issue and Curry County is most relevant.
For nearly four decades, we have attempted to respect the rights of a small, but powerful faction of environmental zealots; those who “protect” the environment at any cost, oblivious to their culpability in these horrendous consequences. The well-funded serial litigators use obstructionist tactics, drawing out every process.
This radical minority has damaged the once respected reputation of those early environmentalists who called for a different way but with a true and abiding interest in preserving both our treasured environment and our rural communities. When environmentalism became an industry, there was a shift from which we have not recovered.
Today, they must come to the table, face reality and make a course correction. We must see these misguided agendas for what they are.
The determination of the environmental activist movement to control nearly everything continues unabated, as demonstrated by their insulting attempts to “educate” the rest of us into accepting this era of catastrophic fires as natural when in reality the frightening results were created by their actions, not by nature as they would have us believe. Laws and policies initially intended to support positive natural resource management have been misused, misinterpreted and distorted with horrible consequences, ultimately supporting an agenda contrary to the values of our citizens.
Their ideological purity is destroying our livability and continually exposes their erroneous beliefs. If nothing else, I ask this small minority to at least acknowledge the millions of birds and wildlife that have been tragically incinerated on their watch.
The reality is that catastrophic fire and a sustainable timber supply are not two separate issues. In fact, the opposite is true. Our rural communities simply can’t survive economically without an adequate and predictable supply of federal timber. We must pull together for immediate solutions that include that yield.
In doing so, the economic situations of these areas in our state dominated so heavily by federal lands must be stabilized. This will help to address other problematic issues common to rural Oregon. All the while, creating fuel breaks, improving roads and reducing fuel loads. Ultimately it will enhance our fabulous rivers, wildlife and fish habitat, along with other crucial projects associated with healthy management.
The Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service may be allowing additional annual timber harvest, so better times may be ahead. But this will only occur if the inevitable environmental objections are managed without selling the farm. I do believe we currently have in place strong, experienced, and committed leadership within our Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. I also submit to the entire country, the Oregon Department of Forestry is simply the very best of the 14 western states.
My confidence is bolstered by the hope of our U.S. Forest Service once again returning to a great agency status. We all must work to reverse the annual witness of turning our beautiful forest assets into the most frightening of liabilities and leaving so many chocking in the smoke. Welcome to our world Portland.
• Reduce ground fuels. Immediately put people to work maintaining 100-feet thinning and fuel reduction buffers on key back-country roads, as well as key heliports and fuel breaks in and adjacent to the wilderness, with an ongoing and funded maintenance plan.
• Increase herbivores. Reduce the Oregon cougar population by half. No wolves on the west side of the Cascades. We must bring back the deer and elk that consume much of the dangerous fire fuels. Increase timber sales and other programs to fund wildlife enhancement work.
• Increase road and trail access. Timely ground access is critical to fire suppression and we can’t afford to be delayed by a road system that is unmaintained or worse, intentionally decommissioned. Pursue road and trail maintenance funding, plus empower user groups interested in assisting. Leave roads and key fire lines open.
• Increase timber sale programs. Timber sales create fuel breaks, maintain roads and manage fuel loadings, all while providing the economic support so badly needed to stabilize our rural Oregon communities.
• Support wildland/urban interface programs. Work with property owners to implement fire-wise measures on their homes and lands.
• Increase allowable burned timber salvage. Case in point: The final decision on the Chetco Bar Fire salvage was 2.5 percent of the total burned acreage. The wanton waste is unacceptable and leaves an explosive fuel load for years to come.
• Institute new litigation and lawsuit reform. Stop the tide of continual litigation that overburdens agencies and ultimately prevents implementation of sound and balanced forest management.
• Modify the Endangered Species Act, E.S.A. Revise the standards for qualifying a species as listed, threatened, or endangered, easing the de-listing requirements. Stop the practice of using rigid interpretations, preventing activities that are well within allowable parameters considering project scope and location.
• Modify the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA. Replacing this outdated, time consuming and expensive act by implementing amendments resulting in a more realistic application without the unintended consequences currently experienced. Stop the practice of using the most restrictive interpretations regardless also of project scope and location.
We have the opportunity to deliver a better future to our citizens by implementing solutions that restore responsible natural resource management and rural, timber-based employment while protecting the resource.
We ask leaders in Oregon and beyond to take immediate and aggressive action with our federal partners. We cannot afford to waste another day. The future of Oregon is at stake and I submit time is running out.
Help bring back the great Oregon advantage. The lives and livelihoods of our citizens depend on swift reform.
Court Boice is a Curry County commissioner.