Josephine County officials vote ‘no confidence’ in USFS fire response

Fire Season 2019: For the latest updates on fires buring in our region, go here: Fire Season 2019.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing 15.6 million acres of public forestland in Oregon. Now, Josephine County commissioners are looking to outsource that management.

Commissioners, and some residents, believe fires on that land would be better controlled by a different organization.

“This year is a perfect example of why we can’t allow the people back in Washington to mandate how we fight fires in our community they don’t understand,”

In 2017, fires in Oregon consumed nearly 678,000 acres of federally protected land, requiring $340 million in firefighting costs.

Fires in Oregon consumed nearly 678,000 acres of federally protected land this year.

Right now, the U.S. Forest Service manages fires on that land.

On October 25, the Josephine County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to outsource the responsibility to the Oregon Department of Forestry. “I am proud to be able to put my signature on the letter of no confidence. I’ll stand by it all day long,” said Commissioner Dan DeYoung.

“We can do better,” Commission Lily Morgan said. “We need to address policy and commit to the better health of our community. I am going to continue to have the conversation to get these policies changed.”

Commissioner Simon Hare said he agrees with the vote of no confidence because this fire season affected tourism. “One of the tragedies is that locals over the holidays are leaving our area because of air quality,” Hare explained. “And some of those days it was expressed to me… it’s like a non-smoker having one or two packs a day.”

Commissioners said the Forest Service’s policies were major factors in the growth of the Chetco Bar, Biscuit and Silver Creek Fires. They’re blaming the Forest Service for unmanaged and under-managed forests becoming overstocked with fuel loads creating tinderbox conditions.

They said the Oregon Department of Forestry has shown “it knows how to handle fires in our region.”

“They are following policy and in there policy they are getting it done at a 90% success rate of keeping fires under 10 acres,” Commissioner Morgan said.

Commissioners said they would like to see Forest Service’s replanting after wildfire and increasing timber salvage.

“We don’t have to have these fires in this catastrophic manner every year,” Morgan added. “This does not have to be the new norm.”

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