Too bad our young people don't have more job options
Our thoughts and prayers go out to longtime Wallowa County residents Larry and Linda Shirley and their family for the lost of their daughter Retha, who died last week in an automobile accident while she was on her way to fight wildfires in Colorado. There is no greater sacrifice a parent can make for their country than by giving up a son or daughter.
This terrible tragedy brings home in a very personal way the heavy price that communities like ours have paid as a results of misguided public policies responsible for the catastrophic fires that are now commonplace in the western United States. What some refer to as the "War on the West" has now taken one of our own, a young lady who at the age of 19 had everything to live for.
That's the way with war - the young and the brave put their lives on the line while politicians sit back in their fancy offices calling the shots according to which way the political winds are blowing.
Of course Retha Shirley made the decision to spend this summer fighting fire entirely on her own. She could have gone to work for a veterinary clinic in Klamath Falls, which was one of her areas of study as a student at Oregon Institute of Technology. But she chose fighting fire over veterinary medicine perhaps because it was more exciting, the paychecks were potentially much bigger, and this particular job afforded her an opportunity to be close to her family and friends in La Grande, Enterprise, and Joseph.
Like Retha Shirley, most of the people on the Grayback fire crew are young. Five out of the eight involved in the accident are in their 20s, which just goes to show that fighting fire is a young person's game, requiring great strength and stamina. Fire fighting is also one of the few industries in this part of the world where job prospects for young people are actually increasing.
It seems to us that preventing wildfires, by aggressively cleaning up our forests, would be a much better way to utilize the natural ability of our young people than putting them in front of catastrophic fires. Not that forest restoration is completely without risks. It isn't. Young people can and do get hurt, sometimes when all they're doing is going to or from work in an automobile. But compared to fighting fire the risks associated with clearing brush, thinning trees, pulling weeds, and planting grass are pretty benign and a whole lot more productive. R.S.