Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Forest Fires. Smoke. Environmentalists, watch out.

A new frame is emerging, and it can reverse the politics of environmentalism.  

The old frame: "lighter on the land" means cleaner and better.   

The new frame: "light on the land" means unbreathable air, destroyed crops, and misery.

View from my home: buildings a mile away are invisible
In the normal course of things on environmental issues, people presume that when things are "left natural", then things are cleaner.  Creeks left "to run free" are cleaner than ones that are dammed up.

Forests left as wilderness are supposed refuges of clean air and water and wildlife,  versus the destructive effects of logging and road building.

That frame is changing.  Natural means hazardous and a danger to the "Southern Oregon Livability" story.

Currently the air in the Rogue Valley smells the way it smells when you are downwind of a campfire.  It stings your eyes.  Visibility varies depending on the moment but it fluctuates from a quarter mile to a mile.   The air reminds me of Bejing.  The air hazard number for the Rogue Valley is currently 182--unhealthy-- but yesterday Grants Pass was 285 yesterday, "very unhealthy" and almost "hazardous."  

There is a 117,000 acre fire to the west of us, the Chetco Bar Complex.  In Oregon the prevailing winds are west to east.  The air is full of smoke.
Air quality.  Currently "Unhealthy" in Medford

There is a notion getting real traction out in the world of "common sense" and "conventional wisdom" and water-cooler chit chat.    It is that the environmentalists are partly at fault and maybe mostly at fault for the fires that have made late summers unbearable in southern Oregon.   The idea getting circulated is that we are under-managing our forests.  The story is that the land management agencies have too much land in wilderness, they are letting fires burn naturally, they are leaving too many over-mature trees in the forests, they are under-managing the over-thick brush and pre-commercial (i.e. small and dense) forests.

The result is not a late summer paradise of natural beauty.  It is miserable and ugly bowl of smoke from forest fires surrounding us.

Forest fires are expensive.  It has cost taxpayers some hundred million dollars so far to try to halt fires allowed to grow big.  Forest fires are bad for agriculture.   My melons hate the smoke.  The melons stopped getting ripe in the smoke-overcast air and the leaves are dying back as if it were autumn.  It is killing my melon vines.  I am attempting to farm for profit and it ended my season way early. 

This is high season for tourism.  Shakespeare visitors come here to enjoy the natural beauty.  They cannot see it and they cannot breathe.  It is miserable outside.  This is a huge setback for the "southern Oregon livability" story.   Bad for tourism.  Bad for industrial recruitment.  Bad for recruiting those prosperous Californians who come up, decide this is a paradise, and decide to build a vineyard and winery.

People familiar with forest management issues understand that the various factors on timber harvest and land reserves are complex and contradictory.  The forest is a complicated environment, and what helps the salmon might hurt the beavers and what helps the owls hurts the loggers.  Expert foresters--and attorneys- fight over the crosscurrents of positives and negatives for every action.

But this is a democratic republic.  The prevailing assumptions and common sense view of the general public matters a lot.  This is a huge setback for environmentalists because the summer forest fire smoke inundation are new the past five years and they are startling in how miserable they are.

People are looking for explanations.  What has changed is that more land has been reserved for environmental protection versus logging.  It is the real reason?   Experts will disagree, but that is the word on the street.

Someone will be blamed for the mess.   It isn't the young men on the hotshot crews digging fire trenches.  They are the heroes.  Environmentalists are set up to be the villains to be blamed for too much unharvested wood in the forests.   It does not matter if it is factually accurate.  What matters is that someone is going to get blamed for air that hurts to breathe.

It may be too late for environmentalists to get out in front of this.  The story is out there.


  1. Heck, you can't even see the Davidson office from your deck!

  2. Global warming (Climate Change) is not causing the fires, but creating conditions where they are bigger and more frequent. Anyone who has five minutes can look up the stats and see that fires have been increasing for over 20 years. This is fact. Another fact: fires are increasing and worse DESPITE supression efforts. More can be done, and will.

    Each year, each fire will convince more people until we reach a tipping point and climate change deniers will then join the smokers outside shivering on the sidewalk.

  3. The forestry department does not try to put fires out, they just let them burn. Meanwhile families living in the mountains suffer horrible air quality. Many towns their only source of income is the visitors to their areas, well no one wants to spend time in mountains with smog worse than LA. We need to bring smart lumber business back, it will clean up the forest and let people breathe again.


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