County urges fire management as priority

Linn County Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker agreed Tuesday morning, Aug. 23, that the executive summary of the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response should be sent to the Oregon Department of Forestry, entered into the official record and be considered when developing any forest management plans.

Board Chair Nyquist said the Board of Forestry is developing a Habitat Conservation Plan, which, if approved, will be a guiding resource in managing state forest lands for decades. He believed wildland fire prevention should be considered a top priority of the document.

The Governor’s Council proposed four key strategies to reduce wildfires: creating fire-adapted communities, restoring and maintaining resilient landscapes, responding safely and effectively to wildfires and developing a cross-functional support system.

Nyquist responded to comments made in a recent newspaper article by a proponent of the Douglas fir National Monument – that would encompass 530,000 acres primarily in Linn County – that fire is a part of the forest life cycle.

“There appear to be advocates to just let the forest burn,” he said. “Two years ago, people lost their lives in the Santiam Canyon wildfires, they lost lifelong family assets. Some lost everything they had.”

Nyquist said that so far, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s HCP does not “acknowledge the serious problems Oregon faces in the next few years.”

He said that the government’s No. 1 priority should be to protect the public, and that includes protecting people from wildfires. His fellow commissioners agreed, with Sprenger emphasizing that five lives were lost in the Santiam Canyon wildfires on Labor Day weekend 2020.

Almost 1,600 buildings and more than 400,000 acres of public and private timber lands were destroyed.

“Two years ago, people died; that’s the most important issue,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Commissioner Tucker said the HCP would guide forest management for the next 70 years.

“Fires and community economics are not a part of the HCP at this time,” he said, adding that a draft of the Habitat Conservation Plan is available to the public for review at http://www.oregon.gov/odf/aboutodf/pages/hcp-initiative.aspx.

Tucker added that although the proposed Douglas fir National Monument would not delegate timber lands into more wilderness areas only, it would reduce the number of roads maintained within federal forest lands.

Those roads are vital when it comes to fighting wildfires and keeping them contained in designated wilderness areas, Tucker said.

The executive summary of the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response can be viewed at http://www.oregon.gov/gov/policies/Documents/WFCExecSumm_2019_v2.pdf.

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer