Grants Pass Daily Courier: Walden pays visit to Selma fire camp, says he'll fight to change forest policy
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and local politicians heard the latest from fire managers Friday afternoon at the Klondike Fire camp pitched at Lake Selmac.
The lawmakers are concerned about the smoke, the size of the fires, and the worsening fire seasons in recent years.
Walden didn't publicly talk about his forest policy bills at fire camp, but afterward, before driving off to a flight from Medford to Bend, he said that he'll continue to fight for policies that thin the forests.
"I'm unwilling to believe this is the new norm," Walden said. "It's unacceptable. We have to change our forest policy and management."
Walden said provisions in the Farm Bill being negotiated by the Senate and House would be a step in the right direction, including expedited removal of dead trees and replanting after a fire. Another provision is categorical exclusions from standard environmental polices for up to 6,000 acres for logging and thinning.
His visit to Medford earlier in the day, with a regional Environmental Protection Agency official, focused on the smoke impacts. Grants Pass has had the most days of air rated unhealthy for sensitive groups (or worse) this fire season than ever before, and the future is uncertain with the Klondike not yet half contained. Quite often, fire seasons last until October.
"We're battling it every day, I think we had a week where we had the worst air quality in the world," Walden said.
Walden, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he plans a hearing this fall to examine the impacts of smoke.
"It's killing people," he said.
Josephine County Commissioner Lily Morgan announced that the county lost 2,000 acres of its timber to the Taylor Creek Fire. She said a salvage sale could be in the works by next month.
"I guarantee the feds won't be able to do it for a year," Walden said after the meeting.
Morgan also lamented the lack of roads to transport firefighters to make fires such as the Klondike smaller. Fire bosses told the gathering Friday that the Klondike is likely to burn for several more miles in the inaccessible terrain of Silver and Indigo creeks.
One scenario with distant containment could add another 97,000 acres to Klondike, said Van Arroyo of the incident command for the west side of Klondike.
"It's hard for me to see those fire lines so far out," Morgan said. "That's something we need to be talking about, getting roads in there to make these footprints smaller."
State Sen. Herman Baertschiger of Grants Pass, who spent four decades in the firefighting and forestry business, pointed out that the big fire season of 1987 started on Aug. 31. He's anxious to see the fires end, based on input from his constituents.
"I've got a lot of people very unhappy," Baertschiger said. "How long is it going to take?"