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Walden urges active forest management to cut severe wildfires


Continuing his push for active forest management to prevent unnaturally catastrophic wildfires, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., held a hearing Thursday to examine the health impacts of wildfire smoke that has inundated communities in Oregon and across the West this summer.

The hearing, entitled, “Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires: Mitigation and Management Strategies,” also focused on needed 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, according to a news release from Walden’s office, which continues below.

“These fires have left communities in my district blanketed with smoke and with the worst air quality in the world. Medford, Oregon experienced the worst run of ‘unhealthy’ air quality since EPA began recording in 2000,” said Walden.

“A leading offender is particulate matter. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine in March pointed out the robust evidence linking exposure to particulate matter to cardiopulmonary mortality and issues with asthma and COPD. According to EPA research, premature deaths tied to wildfire air pollution were as high as 2,500 per year between 2008 and 2012. Other research out of Colorado State University suggests it could be as high as 25,000 people a year,” the congressman added.

Wildfires are a significant source of emissions, especially particulate matter, and often cause the worst air quality days of the year in smoke impacted communities. Researchers have found that wildfires can cause air quality to be five to 15 times worse than the air quality on an average day. Moreover, severe wildfire seasons can result in communities experiencing continuous unhealthy air quality conditions for weeks at a time.

“Curt in Eagle Point, Oregon, dropped off this air filter from his C-PAP machine. He had to replace it after two days — it is supposed to last two weeks,” said Walden, referring to a C-PAP air filter that was showcased during Thursday’s hearing. Clean air filters for C-PAP machines are crucial to ensuring effective therapy for those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

Walden also showcased a cabin air filter from an automobile after just two months of driving through smoky conditions in southern Oregon. A photo shown at the hearing showed a new cabin air filter, along with an air filter clogged with particulate matter from wildfire smoke.

In addition to public health impacts, smoke from wildfires can also harm a community’s local economy due to the negative impacts on agricultural output, forest industry production, tourism activity, transportation, real estate markets, and many other facets of the economy. For example, an analysis of the 2017 Oregon wildfire season estimates that 600 jobs were cut from the leisure and hospitality businesses in central Oregon and southern Oregon due to the decline in tourism caused by active wildfires.

Walden invited state Senator Herman Baertschiger from Grants Pass to testify during the hearing. Senator Baertschiger serves as the chair of the bipartisan fire caucus in the Oregon state Legislature and has over 40 years of first-hand experience in wildland fire and forest management activities.

During his questions, Walden asked Senator Baertschiger what the consequences are of wildfires that strike in areas where burned timber from previous fires is not removed and a new forest is not replanted. Baertschiger testified that subsequent fires that strike in these areas will inhibit the ability of forests to naturally regenerate.

“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,” said Baertschiger. “It changes the entire ecosystem of that forest. You will not have the same forest that you had.”

Representative Walden worked to include provisions in the House-passed Farm Bill that would require the Forest Service to remove the burned, dead trees after a fire 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.

Studies by the Nature Conservancy, Forest Service and others have found that active management of fire fuels can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by up to 70 percent, and can reduce carbon emissions from wildfires by up to 85 percent.

During the hearing, Walden 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.

For more information on Thursday’s hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, please click here. For more information on Walden’s efforts to reform federal forest policy, please click here.

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