Letters to the Editor 8/29/21 | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Editor's note:

When we conceived the theme for this year's Best of Central Oregon issue—crafted by the ever-talented graphic designer Euiijin Gray—we were hoping to be in a moment of triumph, in a time when society had beaten this virus and we could give one big thank-you to the heroes who helped us through it. Turns out, we're still giving the thank you—but it's more of a "thank you; keep going!" type of gratitude.

Letters to the Editor 8/29/21
@joel_chadd_photography / Instagram
@joel_chadd_photography shared this photo of adventurers stepping into the great unknown. Tag us @sourceweekly for your chance to be featured here and in our Instagram of the Week in the Cascades Reader. Winners get bragging rights and a free print from @highdesertframeworks!

Designer Gray conceived this singular image of a medical professional carried along by the wings of a phoenix... and while we're not quite in the phase of "rising again" and instead are in the "still burning" phase, we think it still works. We are in the midst of a challenge unlike any other that our health care workers have seen in their lifetimes, and what we as journalists and cultural bellwethers can do right now is to put them in their proper place. As we put out this Best of Central Oregon issue, celebrating the many accomplishments of local businesses, individuals and nonprofits, we think we've done that by placing a medical professional on the cover of this issue. Thanks to cover model Dr. Jessica Morgan for being our subject, and to all the medical teams out there, showing up every day in the face of hard times. Thank you; keep going!

And of course, congratulations to the many locals who've risen to the top in this year's readers' poll—you deserve serious cred for your hard work and perseverance this year!

Guest Opinion: Good Fire Bad Fire False Paradigm

There has been a spate of pronouncements from politicians as different politically as Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines to California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsome arguing that we need more "active forest management" to reduce "fuel" as a means of precluding large blazes.

The assumption that fuels are the problem is widespread and repeated over and over by the media and agency folks, so this mantra is nearly internalized in the public mind.

A new twist on the same theme is the social justice movement's newfound interest in Native American burning, which many suggest was a "good fire" that reduced fuels and thus prevented large fires. All of these themes, whether from the political right or the left, assume there are "good fires" that burned frequently or logging that can reduce fuels to "save" forests from "bad" fires that kill trees and burn tens of thousands of acres.

But it's not a "good fire" vs. "bad fire" issue. There have always been large high-severity fires in the past. For instance, the 1910 Big Burn that charred 3-3.5 million acres of Idaho and Montana occurred long before there was any effective "fire suppression" fuel build-up. 

This agrees with paleoclimate studies that show a strong relationship between decades, even centuries of severe drought, warm temperatures and low humidity overlapping with significant evidence of burning.

We have evolutionary evidence for the occurrence of high-severity blazes in the numerous species of wildlife and plants like the blackback woodpecker that flourish in the snag habitat created by such fires. Could fire suppression and fuel buildup exacerbate the situation? Perhaps a little, particularly in dry pine forests, but not in most forest types which typically have long fire rotations of many decades to hundreds of years. Most of the acreage burning in the West is occurring in tree and shrub communities that naturally burn significant acreage only when climate/weather conditions are favorable for a large active fire. We also have abundant evidence for the failure of "fuel reductions" to preclude large climate-driven blazes. 

The community of Paradise, California, was almost surrounded by clearcuts, hazardous "fuel reductions," and even recent fires that presumably reduced fuels. Yet the Camp Fire destroyed more than 19,000 structures in the town and killed 87 people.

The Holiday Farm Fire that overran the western slope of the Oregon Cascades last September burned almost entirely in commercial timberlands and heavily logged public lands.

This summer, the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon has chewed through over 413,000 acres. Mapping of the fire footprint suggests that 75% of these lands have been treated with active management that includes logging/thinning, prescribed burns or grazing. In other words, the area is a poster child of "active forest management" and yet continues to blaze away unabetted.

Similarly, the Dixie Fire in northern California has charred over 435,000 acres with again most of the lands under "active forest management."

There are common factors in all these fires. They are places that have experienced significant "fuel removal" by "active forest management." And they are burning under severe drought, with high temperatures, low humidity and high winds. This is the recipe for large, unstoppable fires.

Fuel build-up or limited logging, grazing or even a lack of Indian burning is not the issue—all of these are in one form or another part of the "fuels" are the "problem" and "good fire-"bad fire" paradigm.

The ultimate force driving large wildfires is a warming climate.

If we don't deal with climate change, fuel reductions will only exacerbate the situation because Nature always bats last. 

— George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books and travels around the West to examine how fires burn.

Affordable Housing Study

A study on affordable housing in Deschutes County, conducted by the League of Women Voters of Deschutes County, identified a number of factors that impact the cost and supply of affordable housing in Deschutes County. As the City of Bend works on revising its development code to respond to the requirements of House Bill 2001, the League wants to highlight its position on short-term vacation rentals.

The study found that short-term rentals have a significant impact on the availability of affordable, workforce housing. Our position highlights preserving the existing housing supply for residents, limiting the use for tourists and other nonresidents. In addition, we believe that new construction of multi-family housing, such as duplexes and triplexes, should be limited to residential housing. Allowing short-term rentals for vacationers in newly created housing units contradicts the City's expenditure of time and resources over many years to create, fund and celebrate new residential housing units.

We encourage the City of Bend to limit, regulate and enforce the permits now given for short-term rentals and to disallow tourist rentals when building the higher-density housing allowed by HB 2001. People who live and work here are entitled to affordable housing in clean, safe neighborhoods.

—Carol Loesche, LWVDC President

Letter of the Week:

Carol—I applaud your group's work on this issue, and I hope the City of Bend reads and takes note of this important letter. You earn Letter of the Week, so come on by and grab your gift card to Palate!

—Nicole Vulcan

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