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Burn ban met goals

Posted on 07 November 2012 by admin

State legislation in effect for several years now

Thousands of acres of grass fields line Coburg Road in Harrisburg that can no longer can be managed by natural tools such as fire. Some feel legislation prohibiting field burning has caused more problems than it fixed.

By Vera Westbrook
For the Tribune
TRI-COUNTY – Since a recent ban on agricultural field burning in Lane and most of Linn counties, local residents have been noticing clearer summer skies devoid of smoke plumes bellowing from burning fields. The ban went into effect after the Oregon State Legislature passed Senate Bill 528 in 2009 that prohibits open field burning in the southern Willamette Valley.
Farmers have historically practiced field burning to improve yield and maintain grass purity and to control weeds, insects and plant diseases. In the 1970s, about 500,000 acres of grass seed and cereal grain crops were grown each year in the Willamette Valley—with nearly 250,000 acres burned each summer well into the 1980s. By 2009, the number shrank to 40,000 acres a year.
The 2009 legislation eliminated general open field burning in most of the Willamette Valley with the exception of emergency burning of up to 2,000 acres a year to address disease and pest outbreaks.
Public health was a reason that spurred the legislation. Based on data collected from air quality monitoring stations in the Willamette Valley, the air in several communities contained high levels of fine-particulate pollution from field burning that raised medical concerns. These particles could cause health problems, particularly in the young, the old and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Oregon Department of Agriculture Smoke Management Program Manager John Byers, who oversees the burning of 15,000 acres of certain fire-dependent grasses and of the 15,000 acres allowed, only 11,000 acres were burned this year, and no one has applied for emergency burning.
Sally Markos, public affairs manager for the Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, sees other signs of a successful legislation.
“What we look at is the number of complaints the agency receives. During some summers, we had more than 500 formal complaints. Now we are down to a trickle.” Markos said previous complaints were direct impacts where field-burning smoke was coming into neighborhoods, entering homes, and causing people to breathe the smoke.
Markos further explains that measuring particulate matter in the air is not an accurate determinant of the effectiveness of the legislation.
“If there is a field burning intrusion, it is only for a few hours on one day, so you would see a spike (in particles) on that day, but it’s not going to change the averages for that period of time.” Particulate measurements also lack the source of particles.
The results of Senate Bill 528 may be favorable for some, but for local farmers, it’s presented a new set of challenges.
“Fields that were once burned within a few minutes are having tractors dragged over them for days,” said Eric Bowers of Bashaw Land and Seed in Harrisburg. “We also have more insect problems that we didn’t have before,” especially with slugs.
“Fire was the natural way to take care of most of these problems, and they’ve taken that tool away from us,” he said. “Now we’re burning more diesel and creating more dust.”
For more information see the websites below:
ODA Natural Resources Smoke Management Program -  www.oregon.gov/ODA/NRD/pages/smokefrontpage.aspx
Lane Regional Air Protection Agency   -  www.lrapa.org

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