Photo: Angela Bohlke.

Wildfires + Climate Action

Sep 16, 2020 by Jana Hemphill
Oregon and the rest of the West coast have been hit hard by wildfires this year. What can you do when it seems like the whole world is on fire?

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Every year, as the snow begins to slowly melt away and the sun turns itself up a notch, I begin to smile. My favorite season has arrived: summer. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love spring with its first wildflowers, fall with its gorgeous colors and sense of coziness, and winter for its snow and calm. But I am a sundress-wearing, backpacking every weekend, lover of warmth and sunshine.

Summer remains my favorite season, but now I have my fingers crossed during these months. As I see the grasses begin to brown and our trails turn dusty, a mild panic settles in. It’s fire season. I wonder whether it will be as bad as 2017 or better like 2019. When the clouds roll in and the heat lightning arrives, I squeeze my eyes shut and simply hope for the best.

Where does this mild panic come from? There have always been wildfires in Oregon. We have many trees, plants, and animals that depend on wildfires, that have evolved with this natural occurrence. But as our world heats up and climate change makes itself more apparent, our wildfires are intensifying. As you may already know, our wildfires now are hotter and bigger, and we're seeing a longer wildfire season.

But what can we do? I find myself turning back to this question, time and again. I’m a fixer and I want to make a difference. While this question is much larger than myself—than any of us—there are still actions we can take. If you haven’t already, be sure to read our blog post on What You Can Do to Prevent Wildfires. It’s a great way to think about the direct actions that you take when it is wildfire season in Central Oregon.

Beyond that, there is climate action. These wildfires are unprecedented because human-caused climate change is unprecedented. What actions can you and I take to help minimize the effects of climate change?

1. Vote. Vote in your local, state, and national elections for candidates who are committed to taking action to minimize the effects of climate change. If you are not currently registered to vote in Oregon, you have until October 13th to register. Do this by clicking here. If you’ve been displaced by the wildfires in Oregon, click here for more information on how to vote. Ballots will be mailed in Oregon beginning on October 14th.

2. Refuse, reuse, and repair what you can. You can help reduce the emissions that go into producing clothes, household items, and outdoor gear by reducing demand for these goods. Look to places like Gear Fix, Dudley’s Bookshop Café (their upstairs is devoted to used books), and furniture consignment stores for new-to-you items. Have breweries refill your growlers instead of always buying six-packs. Carry and use your own reusable bags and coffee mugs when it's allowed (not every business allows this due to COVID-19). Repair that hole in your down jacket (or have someone do it for you).

3. Shop locally. If you do need to buy something new, shopping locally helps you reduce the amount of transportation emissions released during shipping AND helps our local economy. This means letting go of (or reducing your dependency on) the convenience of Amazon and online shopping. It’s tough, but small steps can make it easier. You can also shop locally for your food. The downtown Bend Farmers Market is open through October 14, the Sisters Farmers Market is open through October 4, and the Prineville CROP Farmers Market is open through September 26. The Madras Saturday Market ends soon on September 19 and the Redmond Farmers Market is already finished for the season.

4. Conserve water. Central Oregon will experience water shortages as a result of climate change, and water awareness can preserve resources. While you’re soaping up at the sink (remember, 20 seconds and scrub those fingers!), keep the water turned off. Take shorter showers, use low-flow appliances, and xeriscape your yard. Turn your grass lawn into a native wildflower oasis for butterflies, birds, bees, and other pollinators.

5. Support the Deschutes Land Trust. What happens when you support the Land Trust? You are combating climate change at the local level by conserving land, keeping carbon in the soil, and providing wildlife with the habitat they need to survive. Donate to the Land Trust or volunteer with us today!

There is hope in our community. With the smoke, the wildfires, and the pandemic, things may look dire. But our community is resilient. We come together to help one another in times of need. I am encouraged by the local businesses that are helping gather supplies for wildfire victims. I smile when I hear another story of someone volunteering their time, making donations to honor a loved one, and helping out a neighbor. Because these stories are abundant, I am hopeful. Together, we can make a difference.


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