The Issue: Our Forest Service seems to be stepping up their number of prescribed burns each season, starting in the spring when the weather is nice and clear, and continuing through the fall...when the weather is nice and clear. Consequently, our purported «300 Days of Sun» are often shrouded in thick, smelly smoke. By my estimates, perhaps up to 5,000 acres (?) may be burned through this process each year—all in the name of healthy forest management and fire fuel abatement. In contrast, however, our Forest Service regionally manages 1.6 million acres chock-full of diseased or dead trees, many from pine beetles, along with all the other combustible fuels one would expect to find, including branches, brush, etc.
The Question: So why is our Forest Service so interested in conducting prescribed burns to mitigate fire risk on only a minuscule fraction of their acreage under management? Does it really reduce the "overall" risk of forest fires, as they say?
The Cost to Our Health: We have all turned on the local news to hear the weatherman report a new prescribed burn, repeating guidance from our local Forest Service folks that, "people with asthma, allergies and other breathing problems, especially the elderly, are advised to stay inside with the windows closed." What further health risks do these dozens of airborne carcinogens from smoke pose to children and pregnant women? Based on numerous outside sources—including our Forest Service, itself—the risk to public health may be far greater than what we have been otherwise led to believe.
The Solution: The idea of reducing combustible fuels to mitigate fire risk is not the issue—obviously there's a clear benefit in doing so. The issue is how to do it safely and effectively, and whether it really makes a difference on such a small scale toward lowering overall fire risk. The Forest Service has already been clearing other large swaths of forestland, "mechanically," using light equipment, without burning. So why not continue this smokeless approach on an even larger scale, and completely eliminate the prescribed burning? I believe, at a minimum, areas near communities should certainly be a cleanup priority, and I would even support further efforts under the right circumstances if it helped create employment.
I know I'm not alone when I don't want to see our beautiful snow capped Cascades shrouded in brown haze; or smell the stench of smoke; or feel the health of our fellow community members—including children, pregnant women, and the elderly—is being needlessly put at risk.
I'm also concerned for our community's reputation: How does all this smoke affect the quality of life we've worked so hard to build and preserve? Tourism is obviously a vital industry here. Are we risking our reputation as the sunny and pristine "Playground of the Northwest"?
Way to go [Teton Gravity Research]! Thanks for effectively using your "pro-environment" stance and platform to call out Bend and other heavy polluting mountain towns in your "Ten Most-Polluting..." list.
Seriously TGR, you make ripping flicks, but you lost me years ago in the Tower Theatre with some finger wagging bro-brah telling me how he unplugs his toaster every day to avoid phantom electricity load. Subsequently, he hopped in the helicopter to burn 45-55 GPH and shred the gnar. A brief tour of TGR's website shows the same story, most recreation is dependent on heavy fossil fuel consumption.
Like most, I have my hypocrisies involving energy use and fossil fuel consumption; despite giving a lot up, I still drive to the mountains and love a road trip. But I don't proselytize the good news as some holier than thou green guru. What's your carbon foot print TGR? Those Eurocopters and ski boats are awful thirsty. Jeremy Jones excepted, TGR seems either oblivious or very adept at insidious green-washing. Physician heal thyself.
Despite its disheartening message, I was glad to read the recent "Boot" column regarding Bend's status as one of the most polluting "mountain towns" in the nation. The Source hit the nail on the head with the assertion that "being an outdoor enthusiast does not necessarily translate into being a good steward of the environment."
While I am as prone to self-righteous evangelizing as the next bike-commuting environmentalist, this column made me pause to examine my own habits. Yes, I bike and walk to work sometimes, but I don't hesitate to hop in the car if it's raining or I'm feeling lazy. Yes, I intentionally live close to where I work and shop, and I often walk to the grocery store, but I regularly drive up to Mt. Bachelor, or to Shevlin Park for a run. Whether I feel guilty for slipping up once and a while, or pat myself on the back for being a relatively good steward of the environment (hey, I work for a conservation nonprofit!), I ultimately know that my personal choices and those of each individual member of our community are not what landed Bend on this list.
The culture in Bend, and Central Oregon at large, is undeniably car-centric. Just look at the debate swirling around the controversial topics of the day: Galveston redevelopment, Mirror Pond, and the new OSU Cascades Campus, to name a few. Business owners tell me that people from Northwest Crossing "just aren't going to bike" a mile or two to patronize businesses on Galveston. Replacing each and every parking space that could be lost if the riverfront parking lots are redeveloped under the Mirror Pond vision is taken as a given. And how on earth do we expect college students to exist in Bend without their own personal vehicle? How could OSU-Cascades have the audacity to think that students could arrive on campus without a car?
If we want to change our status as one of the worst polluters among our peers, we must question the assumption that we will always be as dependent on our cars as we are today. We also need to demand that local policy makers work to give everyone in Bend (not just those of us who live on the west side) safe, viable options for getting around without depending solely on a personal vehicle.
Finally, each of us does have a responsibility to question our own driving habits. Could you ride your mountain bike to the trail instead of putting it on your bike rack just to drive five miles to the Phil's trailhead? Could you carpool up to Mt. Bachelor with buddies rather than driving by yourself? And please, stop complaining about traffic when you, driving by yourself in your car, are part of traffic. Let's get creative about how we reach our destination, rather than continuing to place convenience over the health of our planet.
Numbers don't lie, but the people pushing them often do. It's a simple exercise using Berkley's interactive map to find a number of mountain towns that have worse pollution than Bend. For whatever reason the folks at Teton Gravity omitted many of these from their little list.
To give the list a bit of perspective Yellowstone National park comes in with 43.9 metric tons of CO2.
Here's a link to Berkley's map: coolclimate.berkeley.edu/maps