I lived most of my first seventy-eight years within spitting distance of Oregon’s national forests, the timberlands of the Bureau of Land Management and one National Grassland. In those years, Oregon experienced a few large forest fires and grass fires. But while I breathed smoke for a week or two in prior decades, it wasn’t until the summer of 2019 I spent nearly the whole summer smoked in. Even the Oregon coast was smoked in from time to time.
This summer (2023) is no different. I think I know why. During the Obama administration the Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service agencies were told to use regular appropriations to pay for fighting wildfires, something unheard of from any previous administration…be it a Democrat or Republican administration. There were no other funds for firefighting. As a consequence, the annual work to reduce hazardous fuels (called brush disposal) and thinning of thick stands of trees (called dog hair thickets by us old timers) stopped. For eight full years.
Mother nature is relentless. Every millisecond of every day, plants grow. No stopping them without killing the plants. And even then a new seed will germinate. The astounding recovery of the plant life in the Yellowstone National Park following the last devastating fire is proof positive. The recovery of plant life following the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption is another.
Looking back to 2019 and the fires in between, fires like the Almeda fire that burned whole towns in Oregon, the cause was twofold: Heavy increases in highly flammable fuels and a federal administration that refused to fund proper management of public lands.
I don’t know what kind of smoke those public officials are breathing, but the rest of us are breathing wood and grass smoke started by the ineptitude of our politicians. I have to wonder if they even care.