County Commissioner Candidate Forum
Report by Addie Greene
Amy Thuren, running for Jackson County Commission seat 1, and Dr. Lanita Witt, running for seat 3, gave their views at the Jackson County Commission Candidate Forum on Environmental Challenges sponsored by SOCAN (Southern Oregon Climate Action Network) Monday in the Medford Library. Ms. Thuren’s opponents, Commissioner Rick Dyer and Libertarian Frank Brannen, and Dr. Witt’s opponent, Commissioner Colleen Roberts, did not appear at the forum. Liz Olson was moderator.
SOCAN’s forum consisted of introductions, six complex questions, four Yes/No questions, and questions from the audience as time permitted.
Amy Thuren said an American Leadership Forum on community issues made her realize community leaders must act together to solve problems. We have had four summers of smoke and still have no plan, she said. Her priorities are the economy and the Clean Energy Bill.
Dr. Lanita Witt said, “We had a very sick forest.” How we manage our forest resources to combat fire, she said, should include leaving old growth alone and going to smaller sized timber, water conservation, and wetlands restoration.
How should the commission respond to the state energy bill?
Witt: We must establish more clean energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of coal by 50%, harvest only small-diameter timber, and bring the younger generation into the clean-energy economy.
Thuren: We must do everything we can to deal with climate change, including creating more green energy jobs. The county can be a leader. We must establish a stronger mass transit system, walk more, and bike more.
Both support the reallocation of the rainy day fund for resource management.
How should planning and zoning be modified?
Thuren: We should encourage more multi-use construction and additional dwelling units in Medford, and discourage building in fire-prone areas.
Witt: The county can work with its cities on the housing crisis, which affects teachers and other public servants. We must collaborate on the best possible use of resources. Urban sprawl tends to go into farmland. We should support apartments above retail spaces, more solar panels, and energy efficiency in general.
Should the county support citizen advisory committees?
Witt: The Resource Advisory Council is composed of timber people, last met in January, and is not at all effective. We should establish a brain pool of all knowledgeable people in the county.
Thuren: Commissioners are tasked with being liaisons to various committees, a method that is not effective right now. The Natural Resources Advisory Committee can do a lot more. We must establish a climate change advisory committee.
Both support county incentives to promote energy conservation.
What is your stand on Jordan Cove?
Thuren: I oppose the Jordan Cove project because of eminent domain issues and potential danger to water sources. The project is not healthy for our kids. My opponent received $20,000 from the Medford Chamber PAC in relation to this issue.
Witt: Natural gas needs to stay in the ground.
Should the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report change the county’s attitude on greenhouse gas emissions? Both answered yes.
How do we address complex forest management issues?
Witt: By understory management, extracting toxins from water, and making all forest by-products part of a clean cycle. She cited the Forest Service’s 700-acre pilot project to clear the understory and said fire has been a part of forest ecology forever.
Thuren: Forest management is a complicated issue that once seemed a choice between clear cutting and saving owls. Forests must be resilient, prevention must be our response, and we must create a plan for what’s surrounding our county. We should replicate Ashland’s plan. The current commission’s stance is “see how it goes and then put the fires out.”
Thirty percent of valley emissions are caused by transit. Should we correct this? Both said yes.
What should the county do about problems caused by cannabis?
Thuren: Legalization has caused negative unintended consequences. There has been an increase in crime in rural areas, an increased use of water and infringement of water rights, and an increased use of pesticides. The county should seek a grant to increase sheriff’s patrols. It is too easy for kids to get pot.
Witt: Boundaries should have been put in place to restrict grows to people who have been Oregon residents for at least two years. There is now a free market collapse with overgrows, and the tax base has gone to retail. The legislature should bring more money here. There is especially a challenge with children and edibles.
What can commissioners do to reduce the use of fossil fuels?
Witt: We must promote mass transit but also take account of the rural nature of our county. We must promote the use of solar panels on every large building, put trees in parking lots to create shade, carpool, and establish a commuter train.
Thuren: We should be intentional about where homes are built and install solar panels at the airport.
What actions do you support to address the issues raised by the IPCC report?
Thuren: We must bring the report to the public’s attention and work together to see what steps we can implement at the county level.
Witt: We must draw down usage to sequester carbon. We are headed into a very dry period. Douglas fir is not a “dry” tree and is disease prone and fire prone. We cannot afford to numb out.
How quickly can the county become carbon neutral?
Witt: I would like to see it in 10 years. We have to name things before we can do anything about them.
Thuren: Once we’re all on the same page we can make huge headway.
How can the county reduce the use of pesticides?
Thuren: I always have been a proponent of using fewer chemicals. We can start with creative learning at schools.
Witt: There are alternatives—even tolerating mosquitoes. We need to do all we can to limit the use of pesticides.
In closing remarks, Witt said there is an amazing compilation of issues facing the nation, state, and community. We are not making progress until we start moving and weigh the economic costs of prevention versus treatment. We must focus not on symptoms but on what causes those symptoms. If we fail the community on education and housing we are not doing our jobs.
Thuren said we must stop treating our environment with disrespect. We have the ability to change the dialog and transform the community through the use of renewable energy.