It was good to see Gov. Kate Brown take an interest in the economic impacts of smoke in Southern Oregon from the summer’s wildfires at last week’s hearing in Ashland attended by local leaders, including some from Klamath Falls.
The fires caused the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to cancel several shows, meaning a loss of some $2 million in revenues. It recently laid off 16 full-time employees; that’s a big hit to the biggest draw in that community. Its board is mulling some sort of Plan B, or another indoor theater to alleviate the need for cancellations when smoke pours over the valley; again, another costly investment.
Jim Chadderdon, executive director of Discover Klamath tourism group, presented the governor with three pages of stats and comments from Basin residents on the smoke’s effects. (See attached document online).
He told the governor the Basin was deluged with smoke from the Klamathon and Carr fires.
“It felt like we were all glued to our computers for days looking at the AQI (air quality index),” he said. “Every day, we looked at it.”
He said air quality in Klamath Falls was among the worst on the planet during the height of summer. There were only four healthy air quality days from July 23 to Aug. 22, according to the State Department of Environmental Quality stats.
Because of that, Chadderdon said, Klamath Falls experienced the phenomenon of “reverse tourism,” when residents had left their homes seeking relief from the smoke.
“That was sort of an extra impact that I think we hadn’t noticed,” he said. He noted that several businesses in the Basin saw double-digit declines in tourism revenues due to the smoke.
Discover Klamath relies on a transient room tax to fund its work. Fears are that that revenue will be down 20 percent in the third quarter, forcing the agency to cut back on the promotions it does to bring tourists here.
Similar losses were also reported by the audience: Crater Lake saw 17 percent, 22 percent and 14 percent lower visitation than 2017 in August, July and June, respectively, and 30 percent losses among concessionaires. And 2017 was a smoky summer.
The Ride the Rim event at Crater Lake can draw up to 5,000 bicyclists. The past two years it’s seen about 3,000.
Of particular note: I-5 Northbound near Redding/Lake Shasta was effectively closed seven days in August due to the Carr Fire which jumped the I-5 freeway. Media coverage of this in Northern California was extensive, causing many to avoid travel to Northern California and Southern Oregon.
Soutions are hard to come by, especially since forest fires, like lightning, are are to predict where they will strike next.
The governor was adamant in opposing clear-cutting of timber to help curb the fire danger, but is supportive of thinning the forests and pre-emptive controlled burns in the winter to clear brush.
That may be a good long-term plan, but to prevent another economic disaster such as last summer, there needs to be a concerted effort for forest thinning now, right now, in the next several weeks and on into next spring. How that can get accomplished is a million-dollar question.
Yet, one never gets that sense of urgency from the state or the Feds. Since Northern Oregon experienced the massive Eagle Creek Fire burn the Gorge two years ago, perhaps Salem will wake up to the fact that we’re all in this battle together, it’s all our livelihoods.