Walden deploys dirty air filters to emphasize smoke's harmful effects
Oregon Rep. Greg Walden used some interesting props to showcase the severity of smoke from wildfires in Southern Oregon during a hearing by his House committee on Thursday.
He held up an air filter from a C-PAP machine, which he said was dropped off by an Eagle Point resident, that had been fouled in two days by smoke. The machines help sufferers of sleep apnea breathe at night.
"He had to replace it after two days — it is supposed to last two weeks," Walden said.
Walden also displayed a cabin filter from an automobile after just two months of driving through smoky conditions in Southern Oregon, and a photo contrasting a new cabin air filter with the filter clogged with smoke.
The hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Walden, examined health effects of the smoke from numerous wildfires all through the West in 2018.
The hearing also focused on proposed changes to federal forest policy to help reduce the risk, size, and intensity of wildfires, which have burned over 700,000 acres in Oregon already this year.
Walden and Republican state lawmakers are advocating more aggressive forest management. State Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, also weighed in at the hearing.
Baertschiger serves as the chair of the bipartisan fire caucus in the Oregon Legislature and has over 40 years of experience in wildland fire and forest management activities.
Walden asked Baertschiger what happens when wildfires burn in areas where burned timber from previous fires is still standing, instead of being removed and new trees planted.
Baertschiger said this inhibits the forest's ability to recover.
"On Forest Service land, you're not going to replant after a fire. When the first fire goes through, the mortality rate of the live trees is pretty high. The second or third time it goes through, it typically takes out the rest of the trees," Baertschiger told the committee. "It changes the entire ecosystem of that forest. You will not have the same forest that you had."
The current Klondike Fire that has burned over 130,000 acres in Josephine and Curry counties is burning through area burned in the 1987 Silver Fire, 2002 Biscuit Fire, and 2017 Chetco Bar Fire.
Walden worked to include provisions in the House-passed Farm Bill that would require the Forest Service to remove the burned, dead trees while they still have value and replant to restore the forest for the next generation. The Farm Bill is currently being negotiated by members of the House and Senate.
Salvage has been occurring in the Chetco Bar Fire area in the last few months. However, advocates of more aggressive forest management say the Chetco salvage of 4,000 acres, out of nearly 200,000 acres burned, is not enough.
During the hearing, Walden also shared a message he received from a mother in Southern Oregon, named Jennifer, who told Walden, "This is now the third or fourth year that we are hostages in our own homes, that my children are robbed of being able to play outside."
"We are here today to help address the concerns I hear from people like Jennifer and families across my district who have one simple message: Something needs to change," said Walden.
The Hood River Republican's sprawling 2nd Congressional District, one of the biggest in the country, includes Grants Pass.