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Richardson Claims Kitzhaber’s Forest Management Policy Contributing to Fires

Friday, September 19, 2014


Kitzhaber visiting the Beaver Complex Fire 

Gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson has blamed the uptick in severe Oregon fires in recent years on what he sees as Gov. John Kitzhaber's mismanagement of the state's forests. 

“While climate change could be a factor, overwhelming evidence points to the poor management of public lands as having a huge impact on conditions that lead to forest fires,” Richardson, a Republican, said in an emailed statement to GoLocalPDX. “Perhaps if the governor spent less time in Bhutan studying "gross national happiness" and more time in DC fighting for better forest practices on Oregon's federal lands, we could combat those conditions more effectively.”

However, Kitzhaber spokeswoman Rachel Wray told GoLocalPDX that the governor saw the increased blazes in recent years as a symptom of climate change. She said that Oregon is already experiencing the effects of climate change, which include "rampant wildfires this summer and last." 

“For Oregon and the world, climate change is an environmental and economic imperative," Kitzhaber has said. "It is the greatest challenge to our legacy and the greatest threat to children and grandchildren.

"It is also an opportunity – an opportunity for our state to build on its competitive advantages by building a low-carbon economy that can be the envy of the world.” 

The issue is at the forefront as Oregon battles some of its most severe fires in decades. 

In 2013, the state faced a historic fire season, with the most acres burned on state-protected lands in more than 60 years, said Rod Nichols, Oregon Department of Forestry spokesman.

And this year hasn’t been much better. A fire burning south of Estacada forced nearby residents out of their homes earlier this week as firefighters battled a nearly 3,600-acre blaze that was sending a smoky haze over Portland. 

“Compared to the 10-year average, 2014 has had three times the acres burned," Nichols said. "So it is a severe fire season by any standard,” . 

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, enacted more conflagration acts this year than any other time in the past decade, invoking the aid of the state fire marshal to assist local firefighters.  

Richardson's statements point up the differences between the two candidates over how the forestland, which covers about half of Oregon's landmass, should be managed. Richardson is in favor of more state control while Kitzhaber has supported efforts at the federal level to boost logging and conservation efforts. 

Climate Change Action 

Both candidates say they believe climate change is real, but they are far apart when it comes to what should be done about it. 

“Too often, in [Richardson's] opinion, decisions are made on both sides of this issue purely on the basis of passion,” said Meredith Glacken, Richardson’s campaign spokeswoman. “Dennis’ view is that based on the evidence we have now, the impact that closed-container coal trains have on the environment is undeterminable, but the impact that shutting them down has on Oregon jobs is seismic.”

Kitzhaber is pushing the Clean Fuels Program, which focuses on reducing carbon from fuels and promoting clean energy. 

“This program is a key to Oregon meeting the carbon reduction targets adopted by the Legislature,” Kitzhaber said in an emailed statement. “We need to make the program permanent.

"In the interest of Oregon’s economy and our environment, I will make extending the clean fuels program a top priority for the 2015 legislative session.”

Kitzhaber has also publicly opposed a proposed coal export terminal in Boardman, which stalled after failing to get a permit from the state and a review by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Global Warming Debate 

Photo Credit: iStock (image cropped)

Glacken claims Richardson is making a personal effort to combat his own carbon footprint.  

“In his own day-to-day life, he works to limit his footprint by driving a hybrid vehicle and maintaining a sustainable garden at his home in Central Point,” she said. “In all the time I’ve spent with him, I’ve never seen him walk past a piece of garbage without picking it up, no matter how small or large.”

But Richardson has expressed skepticism about industry's impact on climate change in at least one previous interview. 

“I read one report where 30,000 scientists have said that there is not adequate scientific background that connects what is being done in industry to the changes that are taking place in the climate,” he said in the interview. “In the 1970s, and I was around then, we were talking about global freezing. Not global warming, but global cooling and now that’s shifted.

"Now it’s not even global warming, it’s climate change. Well, where is the science to back it up?” 

The report Richardson referenced to KGW comes from Oregon GOP Chairman Art Robison. Robinson’s Global Warming Petition Project urges the federal government to reject the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement signed in the 1990s aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. 

Robinson, an outspoken global warming skeptic, made headlines last year for his controversial views when he was announced as Oregon's GOP leader. Robinson was criticized for suggesting in the 1990s that sprinkling nuclear waste in the ocean would be a good way to build up resistance to diseases. 

However, Richardson told GoLocalPDX he does believe climate change is real and that humans contribute to it.

Homepage Photo Credit: Energetic Spirit via Compfight cc


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