Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., went right into air quality talks during his latest stop in Klamath Falls, saying that current levels are “probably worse than Beijing.”
“You can’t even go outside,” said Walden, who had also just come from a meeting with business leaders in Medford.
Walden met with members of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce for a board meeting during the muggy, hazy Thursday afternoon. Other points brought up by chamber members included the continued opioid crisis, supporting mental health programs and continued irrigation debates in the Klamath Basin.
But talks of air quality and the potential adverse health effects took the main stage, with Walden adding that he wanted to conduct hearings to examine air quality impacts of wildfire smoke. Walden also serves as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Walden told chamber members Thursday that he would continue working with his Democratic colleagues to better manage wildfire-fighting techniques and to assure that larger fires get put out quicker.
He also said that state fire officials often seem to get things under control faster than they do on a federal level.
Walden’s office has also cited studies from the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service and others that claim active management of fire fuels could reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by up to 70 percent. This could also reduce carbon emissions from wildfires by up to 85 percent.
“It always seems to be that the Oregon Department of Forestry always gets it quicker and gets it out faster,” Walden said.
Harsher than usual
Air quality in Klamath Falls continues to go back and forth between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy.” As of press time, Klamath Falls had an air quality rating of 154, which is still considered “unhealthy.”
Many experts say that climate change is one large reason for large wildfires being hard to isolate and contain. For Walden, it also boils down to proper forest management. Walden said that there had been more recent tools for forest services to get in and participate in more thinning projects.
As for air quality, the Basin and Rogue Valley have experienced similar impacts. Walden made mention of Rogue Valley events having to cancel, which includes several performances of the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and concerts at Britt Festival Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater in Jacksonville.
“And we’re just barely starting fire season,” Walden said. “It’s not what people signed up for.”
Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot also mentioned a similar outcome for the Gems baseball team, which recently announced the cancellation of the rest of its season.
“It’s just ridiculous,” DeGroot said.