Last year saw Oregon devastated by massive wildfires. Conditions this year are building for a repeat. Temperatures have risen faster than normal, humidity is low, vegetation is drying and river flows are down. A drought emergency has been declared for Klamath county; three-quarters of Malheur county is experiencing moderate drought or worse. In the Owyhee, an abundance of dry fuels, combined with a flood of urbanites desperate to escape pandemic lockdown, is a disaster awaiting a spark.

    The threat to Owyhee rangeland and watershed is real and potentially dire. Large wildfires and desiccated vegetation will devastate the canyonlands for all who rely on them for their livelihood or recreation. Conservation of public lands should be a shared concern for everyone, regardless of differences regarding their utilization. While there may be some truth to the notion that climate change is a natural cycle humans can do little to alter, it is possible to mitigate the impact and sustain the health of the landscape by conserving its original and fundamental natural elements, including vegetation and hydrologic features.

    This will require full commitment and some sacrifice from all parties. Meaningful steps are possible now with the president’s order for federal agencies, including the BLM, to reconsider actions of recent years that contradict measures outlined to confront the climate crisis, i.e., listening to the science, protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and bolstering climate resiliency in natural systems. This must include revisiting the SE Oregon Resource Management Plan, and revising it to meet current challenges. Everyone should be able to agree on these fundamental principles and work toward a respectful transition that, while it may not meet everyone’s specific desires, can nonetheless achieve goals held in common. This approach is fundamental to American democracy and the core of its strength and durability.

Bill Crowell

Portland (Frequent visitor to Malheur County)