WASHINGTON, D.C. — Continuing his push for forest management reforms to prevent catastrophic fires in Oregon, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) led a hearing today to call attention to the air quality, environmental, and health impacts of wildfire smoke. Walden, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said examining the impact of devastating wildfires on air quality needs to be part of the broader conversation on forest management reform.
“It’s time that we looked at air quality as part of the overall mix. Oregonians have been living this problem in the rural West for years — smoke clogged skies from catastrophic fires,” said Walden. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who’ve had health issues develop that they have never had before. People had to see physicians or go to the hospital because the air quality was so bad.”
Oregonians have sent Walden their photos of smoke filled air from catastrophic wildfires this summer. Walden shared these photos during today’s hearing to capture the full picture of how fire and smoke has impacted individuals across Oregon.
“Decisions on how, when, and how aggressively we fight fires matter. They matter to our forests, to our habitats, to our watersheds, and to the air quality in our communities,” Walden concluded, holding a jar of ash to illustrate what Oregonians endure every year. “Let’s have less of this ash, less of this ruin, and better air quality.”
Walden heard testimony from expert witnesses on the environmental impacts of wildfires that pour carbon into the atmosphere each year. As recent Forest Service studies have shown, young growing forests absorb more carbon, while dead trees, along with fire, are carbon emitters. Active forest management that thins our forests, and cleans up and replants after wildfire are important components to reducing fire risk and air quality impacts.
Among the witnesses this morning was Dr. John Bailey of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, who told Walden how far some forest landscapes have traveled from their historic state. In some cases, the forest landscapes that would have historically held 20 trees to an acre, are at 1,000 or more trees per acre. That unnatural density of trees is merely built up fuel for future fires, unless steps are taken to improve active management to reduce the fuel load.