USFS fire sign

Fire danger is pretty low in January, but summer is coming.

It’s 2020. The Christmas season, a time for wishes and presents is past. New Year's is the time for resolutions, for looking forward with 2020 vision and making ourselves and Wallowa County and beyond healthier, saner, and perhaps even more prosperous. Many of us will resolve to lose weight, exercise more, and eat more vegetables. Good luck with those. Really. They are always worthy causes. Go for it!

But here are a few larger-scale ideas that we might consider at the dawn of a new decade.

It’s winter, and every single one of those Forest Service signs with the yellow arrow and the colored scale that depicts fire danger is pegged clear over into the green (low) danger zone. But that won’t last. In 2019 we were extraordinarily fortunate. While California burned, we had only the well-managed Granite Gulch fire to ponder. But at sometime in the future, fire will visit us again. Maybe the Lostine. Maybe the Wallowa River Canyon. Maybe somewhere else. For the sake of healthier forests and ecosystems, we must resolve to help our backcountry, whether in the Wallowas or out the north highway, return to their more fire-resilient patchwork configuration. This certainly includes ensuring that homes and outbuildings in woodlands or near-by have vegetation trimmed and clear spaces around them. In the Lostine Canyon, residents have established a fire-wise community that includes fire suppression equipment that will help quench flames that threaten homes, and trimming vegetation to prescribed heights and distances. Other areas—Hurricane Creek, Tucker Down Road, and Bear Creek, might resolve to follow suit.

And beyond managing our personal property for fire, we need to return the forests to a more resilient, natural state as outlined by John Marshall and Paul Hessburg in this issue. We are used to prescribed burns. Our next step, our resolution, should be to accept managed fire, thinning and the judicious, ecoficially sound recreation of openings in places where there used to be more openings. That includes managed fire in the high country, and implementation of the USFS plan for the Lostine Corridor which is presently a tree-choked fire hazard. Just as there are two sides (or more ) to every question, there are two banks to every river. While the roadside forest will be thinned and returned to a more natural patchwork state that includes openings and corridors that will provide more forage for elk and deer, the west bank of the Lostine will remain as it is now. If wolverines, birds, and moisture-loving, fern-like plants need dense cover, it should be there in abundance. If the forest burns, will they survive?

In our beef article, producers alluded to the carbon sequestration potential of sustainably grazed grassland. Grasslands vegetated by deeply-rooted native bunch grasses and macrobiotic crusts do, indeed, have high potential for carbon sequestration, and for storing carbon in a time of global warming. As do well-managed forests. The carbon storage talents of grasslands, in fact, contributed to the long ago global cooling events that, about 32 million years ago, transformed Oregon (and the globe) from a banana and palm tree-friendly climate to a more temperate place that we recognize today. As our legislature contemplates a new version of the CO2 cap and trade bill, perhaps our legislators could resolve to include tangible rewards for ranchers and timberlands that demonstrate and quantify the amount of carbon that their lands and management are removing from the atmosphere.

We have lots of other tough issues to work on too. They include reducing rural homelessness, domestic abuse, and suicides, supporting our farmers’ markets, and ensuring that we support our schools’ upcoming bonds for safe and improved facilities.

Losing weight, getting more exercise, and eating more vegetables are good ideas too. Oh, and don’t forget to take your own bags with you the next time you go to the store. Happy New Year!

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