The Forest Service needs to act now to prevent wildfires by changing how it manages the Malheur National Forest, the Grant County Court stated in a letter to federal and state officials.

Commissioner Jim Hamsher drafted the letter with help from administrative assistant Laurie Wright. It will be sent to President Donald Trump, the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture, the regional forester in Portland, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Rep. Greg Walden and other officials.

The letter emphasizes the importance of agriculture and timber to the local economy, but it also points out how important both are to wildfire prevention.

“Cattle grazing should be looked upon as a tool in forest management to reduce fine fuels and thus reduce wildfire risk,” the Jan. 9 letter states.

Keeping forest roads open is not only important for economic and recreational reasons but also for emergencies.

“A policy that any road that is not deemed open is closed endangers public safety, economic access and recreation in the forest,” the letter states. “We cannot afford more wilderness and roadless areas. Policies of limited or no access make it almost impossible to fight forest fires effectively.”

The letter cited the lasting community impacts of the Canyon Creek Complex fire in 2015 and the recent tragedy in Paradise, California.

“Nearly a hundred lives lost and thousands of homes lost,” the letter states. “The financial losses are staggering, and the dollar amount will truly never be known.”

A revised forest plan for the Malheur, Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman national forests was made public in June 2018. An objection period and a resolution period followed. Objectors met with Forest Service reviewing officers in John Day, Pendleton, Wallowa and Baker City in November.

In a Dec. 14 op-ed piece, Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa said reviewing officers will study their notes, reflect on what they heard at the objector meetings and work with Forest Service officials in Washington, D.C., regarding scheduling another round of meetings.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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