Forests are drying out at an alarming rate here in Oregon. It looks like we are in for a huge fire season yet again this year. In Oregon we are generally accustomed to getting massive amounts of rain. Eight months or more of rain in a Willamette Valley rainy season.
In Oregon we rely on water for more than just our forests. We need the mountain streams to keep our salmon alive.We also use water to generate most of our electricity. Historically, water has always been plentiful in Oregon. But in the relative near-future we will be facing water shortages. It’s hard to imagine during this time of plenty. But the data doesn’t lie. We are going to be struggling to meet the water needs of the people.
The reality across the country is that our water sources are being poisoned, and privatized. In Oregon one of the main sources of contamination is fertilizer. We are the grass seed capital of the country, and that takes a lot of fertilizer to grow all of that seed. The resulting nitrogen in the water starves the fish of oxygen. High levels of nitrates in the water also contribute to blooms of toxic algaes in the waterways.
Water keeps our industries running. We pump water through our log mills, pulp mills and paper mills. Water which enters these industries as cool and drinkable, is released as a hot toxic soup into our waterways. The warm water released by industry is a huge threat to the salmon. Salmon require a narrow water temperature range in which to breed and thrive. So when we release hot water into our streams we are undoing the work of salmon preservationists. In essence we are working against ourselves by funding both industry and salmon preservation.
This is all aside from the danger we face from the impending fire season.Fire season last year was a dangerous and scary ordeal. Although our fire seasons here typically are bad, a recent study suggests that we will be facing more severe and more frequent fire seasons. The long-term results will be smaller forests with lesser diversity. When the forests shrink we lose our topsoil at a faster rate, and that topsoil ends up in our streams, further starving the fish of oxygen.
In Oregon our government is bending over backwards to keep timber industry bigwigs happy. The “checkerboard” of the timber industry has already laid waste to much of the state. Now the folks in Salem are working to free up the remaining timber for harvest. Timber harvests which have lead to landslides, because the underbrush and the different levels of canopy are the main protection for the topsoil.
Between unsustainable timber harvesting and the increase in wildfires, upwards of ⅓ of the state is at risk from landslides. Developers and government tend to ignore threats to citizens from landslides until the actual mud is sliding. Rather than make proactive efforts to educate and prevent landslides the state is proceeding with the profitable actions that got us into this fragile condition.
Our forests took hundreds if not thousands of years to grow, and in little more than two hundred years we have laid waste to the ecosystems of the Northwest. Our pristine windernesses are under threat from the Trump administration, which wants to shrink the size of our National Forests and sell off our minerals and timber to the good old boys network of oligarchs. Our water is becoming more and more precious as populations in our major cities continue to grow, and pushing the price of real estate and public utilities up; and reducing the livability for Oregon’s poor and middle classes.
It’s clear that the fire season this year will be another tragic one, both in terms of property damage and environmental degradation.We will doubtless see a longer fire season, with widespread damages. It’s a scary time to be living in the Northwest.
As we face the effects of global warming we are certain to see more fires, larger fires and the resulting landslides. We are also certain to face a migration of people from the south as California dries up. The people in Oregon have long nursed a not-so-quiet resentment of the refugees from the Golden State. We see so many of our troubles as having originated in California. Whether it’s the skyrocketing property prices, or traffic on the I-5, Oregonians put a lot of blame on our southern neighbors. This trend towards polarization is bound to grow more intense as natural resources become scarce. It is a situation where there is already a real estate crisis because of gentrification. One can only imagine how things will go once water becomes more scarce.
Oregon is a great place to live. The people here are certainly facing difficult times ahead. Even if all of the above doesn’t come to pass, there remains the looming danger of the Pacific subduction zone. It is a danger which is not up for debate, and it only remains to be seen whether people will actively prepare for a tectonic plate shift which is way past due.
There are options for moving towards a more sustainable reality for the people of Oregon.If this is what the people really want we are going to need to make a concerted effort to reclaim our government from the sellouts who are more concerned with lobbyists dollars than the livability of our state. If the people are to maintain the quality of life we are used to we will need to dramatically alter the way our revenue is created. We need to walk away from timber and cut way back on the fertilizers being dumped into our rivers. We need to immediately engage in bioremediation as if our very lives depended on it, which they do. And we need to create ways of living lightly on the earth through sustainable development. We need to walk away from monoculture as a sustainable agricultural system, and figure out how to grow plants to preserve our topsoil and retain our moisture.
Global warming is a real threat to the quality of life in Oregon. We face rising sea levels and increased flooding, we face wildfires and loss of rain and snow because of deforestation. We face a loss of our keystone species without which our ecosystems crumble. There are so many challenges to address, and meanwhile the state government seems intent on exacerbating our issues by increasing carbon emissions. There are pipelines and fossil fuel export terminals going in. Export terminals which don’t lower the price of fuel for Oregonians, and which bring only a few jobs, while presenting enormous risks to our fragile watersheds. Further, these export terminals are sited within the tsunami zone, meaning that the eventual tectonic plate shifts implied by the Pacific subduction zone would cause these fuel depots to be underwater, where they would like explode at worst and at the very least leak their toxic fuels into our already damaged waters.
Oregon has a lot on its table. We have the potential to overcome these challenges, though, with foresight and proactive policies.We have some difficult choices to make as a citizenry. Most Oregonians are too caught up in their own daily struggles to consider the many looming difficulties. We, as a state, tend to put things off until the last moment, or after the shit has hit the fan.
Our wildfire season is looming, and the state is urging property owners to mitigate brush and create fire breaks around their home to somewhat prevent the threats of wildfire. But as is usual people are too busy to address issues which are not directly affecting them. We are at the point where the ounce of prevention is inadequate to the dangers present.
Many of the dangers Oregon has to face are not unique to our state. The solutions which we are embracing could well work in the rest of the country and the world if they prove to be effective. We are known for being a state of radical leftists. We are known as being a state full of hippies. If we really are a state of progressive liberals let us begin to change this world for the better through our granola-munching, tree-hugging, and patchouli-wearing ways.
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