Guest column: Leadership needed to restore our resources

September 22, 2020
Guest column: Leadership needed to restore our resources

Wildfires are natural; this level of devastation is not. We all breathe the same air, and the relentless hazardous smoke has made it clear that sustainable natural resource management is an urgent — and shared — priority.

Like our forests, our water is also at risk. Water is our most important natural resource. Central Oregon is undergoing another severe drought. The Wickiup Reservoir is at 1% capacity, and irrigation districts are shutting down water for farmers.

Decisions made in Deschutes County affect the rest of Central Oregon, including impacts on our limited water resources. The Deschutes River flows over 250 miles from its headwaters at Little Lava Lake to its confluence with the Columbia River. Along the way, it provides critical water — for the farmers who put food on our tables, vulnerable species that depend upon it for survival, outdoor recreation opportunities that define Central Oregon’s heritage, and our growing communities. Water also helps us suppress fires.

Our warming climate and rapidly growing population — especially in Deschutes County — mean we need leaders at all levels of government who are knowledgeable in natural resource management. This necessary hands-on experience includes subject matter expertise and the ability to bring together diverse stakeholders to engage in collaborative, effective community planning.

Many of the mechanisms necessary for this level of stewardship are already in place, but we need the right leaders to shepherd these partnerships to successfully meet their founding purpose of making our forests more resilient and our communities safer, keeping our natural resource-based industries viable, and restoring wildlife habitat. Effective collaboration benefits our community while avoiding time-wasting gridlock and unnecessary lawsuits.

As a member of the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and with years of experience in natural resource management, I have seen the importance of engaged, knowledgeable leadership at every level, including county government. Having the right people at the table will be the difference between the “unprecedented” becoming our new normal and us having sufficient water, healthy forests, and breathable air for current and future generations.

Restoring ecosystems can have significant impact on local economies. It creates jobs and supports small businesses. Investments in irrigation modernization and on-farm efficiency can substantially reduce the amount of water needed to keep our local farms productive and thriving.

Continuing to fall short on effectively managing our public resources is hurting us. Raging forest fires and hazardous air is hurting our health and our economy. While water is being shut off for farming, Deschutes County is looking at building another destination resort with multiple golf courses that would consume 49 million gallons of water each year.

Deschutes County commissioners are making decisions that impact all Central Oregonians. For Central Oregon to thrive, we need to elect leaders with experienced in the areas that drive our health, our economy, and our recreation.

We need leaders who understand the natural resource issues that are critical to our region and who have a track record of working with others to get the job done. We need leaders committed to making more investments in our rural, resource-dependent communities — in the public infrastructure that benefits all of us, not just private favoritism. That need is not currently being met.

Voters face some profound decisions this election. On behalf of those of us who love and whose livelihoods are based on our natural resources, we ask you to select leaders with the hands-on experience to sustainably manage our natural resources. Our health and economy depend on it. When you fill out your ballot, choose well.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner lives in Terrebonne

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