Jackson County Commissioner Colleen Roberts was recently invited to speak at a White House conference on America’s Environmental Leadership early this week.

Roberts has long been an active voice on wildfire issues in Jackson County and the state, and has worked through Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) and National Association of Counties (NACO) to seek changes to the United States Forest Service (USFS) firefighting strategies in southwest Oregon.

USFS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ownership comprises about half of the land in Jackson County.  BLM contracts with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) for fire protection on west side O&C Lands. ODF has a long-standing policy to put fires out before they exceed 10 acres in size, and that policy applies to BLM contracted land.

The USFS fights fire on federally owned USFS land using their own policies and strategies for forest management and fighting wildfire. Acres burned on USFS protected lands consistently exceeds acres burned on ODF protected land. In the 2017 fire season, 80 percent of the acres burned across Oregon were on USFS protected land.

Wildfire smoke impacts the health of Jackson County’s citizens and negatively affects the tourism sector.  A high volume of smoke comes from lands protected by USFS across the state. 

In her remarks, Roberts calls out the need for changing fire policy on USFS lands, “previous administrations have allowed these lands to be mismanaged, and thus are burdened with heavy fuel loads. Wildland fire policy allowing management objectives to be attained through prescribed burning during our fire season is flawed.” These prescribed burns during highly dangerous times often leads to fire carried onto state, county, or private land, destroying timber and homes. This method also further exacerbates the air quality issues that come from fire season, creating additional smoke that accumulates in the Rogue Valley endangering local residents.

Roberts expressed support for a recently signed Presidential Executive Order that eases some of the restrictions on clearing fire damaged lands to reduce the risk of reburning and eases restrictions to reduce fuel loading on unburned lands.  

To view Commissioner Roberts’ remarks, click here.

Contributed by: Susan Morgan | Legislative Affairs Manager