Close to 200 people gathered at North Medford High School Tuesday night to tell the Jackson County Commissioners how recent smoky summers had ruined vacations, damaged businesses and more.
Many at the hearing spoke of their frustration with the seemingly endless weeks of smoky air. Stacy Thomas, a stay-at-home mom with four kids, said she was constantly checking the air quality index readings.
"They’d say Mommy can we go out and play? And I’d check and say, No, it’s in the red. You can’t go out. OK, it’s in the orange. You can go out for like five minutes. That’s not OK," she said.
Fourth-generation Rogue Valley resident Steve Grigsby had a similarly dismal season.
"We did nothing this summer," he said. "I had my RV out three times, twice to go to the coast just so we could breathe. Went fishing twice. My wife, I spent over $400 on filters for her, she’s quite ill and we basically were housebound."
Eli Matthews, with Travel Medford, said tourism businesses had been hit hard.
"We had some tour operators in Medford that were down in the summer months 80 percent," he said. "One of our local golf courses for the summer months was down 40 percent."
Some blamed the fires on environmental regulations preventing more robust logging. Medford resident Steve Richey was among them.
"Oregonians used to harvest timber," he said. "Loggers in the forest were the front line attack against devastating fires."
Richey said cutting more trees would reduce fuels and limit wildfires.
Other speakers called on land managers to get more aggressive in putting out wildfires. But Alan Journet, with Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, said to discount the influence of a hotter, drier climate would be a mistake.
"Insisting on fire suppression as our response ignores reality," he said. "Ignoring reality would lead to a doomed strategy."
Journet and others called for thinning the forests and using prescribed burning to reduce fuels
Before the hearing, Jackson County Commission chair Rick Dyer said the board wanted to hear from people who may feel their voices haven’t been heard.
"This is about creating a record that shows what these 200,000-plus people that live in this valley have experienced, and what can be done to alleviate some of that," he said.
Dyer said that record would help the county pressure state and federal officials to allow more work in the woods and to get more aggressive about putting out summertime fires.