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Oregon’s New Reality: Wildfire Close to Urban Centers

Steve Pedery says that raises urgent questions about how Oregon manages the forests around its cities.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Steve Pedery has seen destructive wildfires in Oregon before. He's just never seen them so close to so many people.

The fires that burned a million square acres of forests last week rank among the largest in Oregon's modern history. But part of what makes them so horrifying is that they rushed toward urban centers—places like Medford in the southern part of the state, and the Clackamas County suburbs of Portland.

That new reality raises urgent questions about how Oregon manages the forests around its cities.

Pedery is the conservation director at Oregon Wild, a conservation nonprofit at the center of most debates about logging and wilderness in this state. So he was at the table last year when a Council on Wildfire Response formed by Gov. Kate Brown issued a set of recommendations for wildfire prevention and preparedness.

Those proposals were scuttled when Republicans walked out of the Legislature. Could Oregon have averted this week's cataclysmic wildfires by adopting the council's recommendations? Pedery isn't so sure.

In an interview with WW editor and publisher Mark Zusman, Pedery discusses his reservations and where this week's fires fit into Oregon's natural history.