Fire protection loses out in wilderness ‘land grab’

To the Editor:

The proposed wilderness area in Oregon’s Malheur County, if designated, will lead to the destruction of the very landscape some wish to protect. Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), Keen Footwear, a multimillion dollar Portland company, and others seek such designation.

Wilderness designation will mean very large blocks of land will be denied access to motorized travel, making it nearly impossible for local ranchers to remain viable.Diminished cattle numbers could lead to the undoing of the Owyhee landscape. Whether you agree or disagree with grazing on public lands, the fact is, grazing done correctly, reduces intensity and helps prevent fire. Reduction or elimination of grazing in a short number of years will lead to an overabundance of fine fuels.

Research conducted by rangeland scientists, Davies, Bates, Svejcar and Boyd, “Effects of Long Term Livestock Grazing on Fuel Characteristics in Rangelands: An Example from the Sage Brush Steppe” suggested that “moderate livestock grazing reduces the risk of wildfires on sage brush rangelands by decreasing the amount of fine fuel available for ignition and limiting potential fire spread by reducing fine fuel, continuity, accumulation, and height.” The accumulation and continuity of these unused grasses create a perfect opportunity for what are commonly referred to as mega fires.

Megafires burn with such intensity they often kill many of the beneficial perennial grasses, such as bluebunch wheat grass and Idaho fescue. These perennials are the last line of defense against undesirable, invasive species, such as cheat grass and Medusahead that flourish after fires. These invasives lead to a less diverse plant community, erosion, and even more fire.

Jordan Valley’s Rural Fire Protection Association is currently trained, equipped, and motivated to respond to fires at a moment’s notice. Many fires are stopped while small, saving countless acres of resource. If these ranchers are put out of business by wilderness designation, I doubt they will spend their time, money, or put their lives on the line to protect a resource that no longer directly benefits them.

I highly doubt ONDA, Keen, and their cohorts will have a 150-person fire protection association on the ground, to replace the Jordan Valley association.

Even though ONDA claims grazing will continue, it would be wise to look at what they have done in the past rather than listen to what they say they will do in the future. I believe through litigation and denied access, cattle will be pushed from the land. If so, it will ultimately lead to incinerating the area they purport to protect.

You can help stop this destructive, selfish land grab, by contacting Oregon’s Congressional delegation, Gov. Kate Brown, President Obama, ONDA and Keen Footwear to voice opposition. Please sign the on-line petition at “Oppose the Owyhee Canyonland Proposal.” This proposal must be stopped to truly save the Owyhees.

Keith Baltzor