Oregon must act now on wildfire

Copyright Canstock / jkraft5

By Mail Tribune Editorial Board

The Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response spent the better part of a year looking at wildfire prevention, firefighting and forest health and came up with an ambitious plan to address the issue. Now some lawmakers, county officials and others want to slam on the brakes. On this one, we’re with Gov. Kate Brown, who told a Senate committee this week, “Doing nothing is not an option.”

After two smoke-filled summers taxed the economic health of Southern Oregon and the physical health of its residents, we were harshly critical of Brown for waiting through another fire season before presenting a plan to address the threat of wildfire. Last summer, we got lucky, and fire season was relatively uneventful. But there is no guarantee that luck will hold another year, and chances are it won’t.

Brown’s Wildfire Council did its job and produced a thorough report calling for a wide range of steps to address wildfire risk and boost the state’s ability to combat fires. The result is Senate Bill 1536, which calls for new building codes, land-use planning and mapping high-risk areas. The legislation also proposes treatment of forest debris, measures to protect the public from the health effects of wildfire smoke and enhanced forest protection efforts.

Sen. Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass, who knows as well as anyone the price this region has paid from wildfires, is wringing his hands and saying the state just can’t afford to take these steps.