Letters to the Editor: Jan. 23, 2019

Superintendent: The people have twice spoken with ballots that we cannot afford the wasteful and reckless spending for new school buildings.

Yet, the school board and the hired help keep wasting our money on ballot levies over and over again.

The people have spoken, but the feckless tone deaf board does not get the message.

It is time to replace the calcified skeletons with humans with a pulse.

The school board is the iconic representation of “term limits” We, the people, are tired of the reckless planners who can’t manage our money and do not understand the fragility of the Okanogan County economy which includes the highest per capita personal debt in history, multiple civil lawsuits from the incompetent county judicial system that threaten to bankrupt property owners, rampant inflation, and hospitals ready to fail.

It is well known that “virtual academy” can offload much education needs at 50 perent of the cost of “brick and mortar,” and increase outcome scores. Yet, the board and the hired help do not get the message.

In fact, they used “operations” money to purchase property instead of proper building remediation for safety.

It is time to replace the school board and the hired help with citizens who actually have the student interest and citizen’s financial health and safety in mind.

James Miller, Omak

Okanogan County is at risk for more wildfires and these fires are only going to get worse.

A recent study came out that looked at wildfire risks to communities in Washington and Oregon. It revealed that Okanogan County is in the cross-hairs for wildfires. The study basically uses a computer model to simulate large wildfires under historical weather. Then to calculate the most at-risk communities, the study compared a) the potential each community had for wildfire each year and b) the number of houses in that community.

In Washington state, the communities with the most at-risk houses to wildfire is Leavenworth and Ellensburg. These two cities have high fire probabilities and relatively large populations (i.e. more houses).

Cities in Okanogan County that ranked highest in this list were Tonasket at no. 8, Omak at no. 10, and Okanogan at no. 14.

However, when only looking at the probability of wildfire in a community, Okanogan County includes seven of the eight highest ranking communities in the state. The top five at-risk communities (highest to lowest) are Methow (the town), Riverside, Keller, Disautel, and Conconully, all having a greater than one percent chance every year of fire occurring in the towns. So if you had two decks of cards all mixed together, and one card was a “fire” card, every year these towns pull from those cards and have a chance of getting the fire card. And Omak and Okanogan have relatively high yearly fire probabilities of 0.4 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. North Omak was considered separate from Omak and had an yearly fire probability of 0.8 percent.

And these fire probabilities are likely to increase as time goes on. The wildfire computer model used historical weather. But weather has and will continue to get hotter. The wildfire season will get longer as temperatures increase under climate change. When I talk about environmental issues in rural areas and I bring up climate change, I get a lot of skepticism. And I don’t blame folks for their skepticism. There are justifiable reasons for rural folks to distrust scientists (it’s a whole other article for why this is the case). But the reality is we have already seen temperatures warm and snowpacks decrease in Okanogan County. So, in order to preserve the rural way of life in Okanogan County, we need to consider how climate change will impact the environment, and that includes greater wildfire risk.

But our communities are far from helpless.

We have proven forest management tools to reduce wildfire risk. We need to thin forests and do prescribed burns. A study after the Tripod Complex fire showed that thinning and prescribed burning greatly reduced the number of trees that died after the fire. There is good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is 70 percent of Okanogan County is federal land where minimal forest thinning efforts have occurred. And in the large Pasayten Wilderness, by law no active forest management can occur.

But there are several pieces of good news.

First, the Methow Ranger District has started doing some thinning and prescribed burning. Second, the Colville tribe rightly thinned some of their forests years ago. Third, the state Department of Natural Resources just came out with a 20-year plan with a big push for thinning and prescribed fire. Finally, I myself am working on a project to promote forest thinning among private forest owners in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Wildfires are a natural part of our environment. And they will get more severe in Okanogan County unless active forest management starts to take place. Forest thinning and prescribed fire can ensure we preserve a beautiful and amazing part of Washington State.

Ryan Niemeyer, Bellingham

Editor’s note: The full report can be found online at http://pyrologix.com/ftp/Public/Reports/RiskToCommunities_OR-WA_BriefingPaper.pdf

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