Powell Butte woman seeks House District 55 seat
During a three-decade career with Ochoco National Forest, Powell Butte resident Barb Fontaine watched the growing wildfire seasons with increasing concern.
"I saw emerging climate change and the impact it was having on our forests," she recalls, noting that she was seeing longer fire seasons, drought, smaller snowpacks, drier conditions and hotter temperatures. "It is something we saw in September coming to fruition."
This ongoing concern combined with an interest in other state issues inspired Fontaine to seek state office and try to solve the problems she is seeing. She ran for Oregon House District 55 and won the Democratic nomination this past May.
Fontaine, who has pioneer heritage in Central Oregon, has lived in Powell Butte with her husband, Steve Lent, since 1985. She raised two children in the community.
She came to the community after starting out in the Pacific Northwest. She first lived in Yakima, Washington, then moved across the country, at age 14, to northern Virginia. While she was there, she attended Northern Virginia Community College before moving back across the country to complete undergraduate work in wildland firefighting at Oregon State University. She finished school with a Bachelor of Science degree in forest management.
Fontaine said she was a child with few resources and had a lot of overcome, which shaped some of the issues important to her as she seeks election.
"I wanted to go to college and with some hard work and some good luck, I was able to meet my education goals," she said. "What I learned along the way was that a government-supported community safety net is critical for helping vulnerable young people and a lot of other people."
She consequently hopes to bolster access to housing, health care and food assistance and make college more affordable.
"I was able to get through Oregon State on minimum wage jobs and some grants and very small loans," she recalls. "What I learned about that was that access to affordable higher education is critical and our best hope for providing a better future for our children."
Regarding the growing wildfire season, Fontaine feels the legislature needs to take more action to slow climate change, and she hopes to play a role in that if elected.
"I was so disappointed that the Oregon Legislature failed to move forward on the critical legislative action that we needed to combat climate change," she said. "Oregon needs to do its part."
In addition to addressing climate change, Fontaine points out that her career with Ochoco National Forest has prepared her to address additional forest issues related to wildfire suppression and forest health.
"I led interdisciplinary teams to develop landscape-level plans to improve ecosystems' resiliency including timber harvest, wildlife habitat, stream restoration and many other aspects of resource management," she said. "Through this work, I developed skills resolving complex problems and balancing competing interests through collaboration and teamwork."
Other major developments in 2020 have also shaped the issues that Fontaine would like to address. She is concerned about the impact of the COVID-19 impact on people and on the economy. She feels that response by Oregon leaders has put the state in a favorable position compared to others states as it relates to the number of infections and mortality, but she still sees room for improvement.
"It is pointing to some changes that we need to make as we rebuild our economy," she said.
Fontaine went on to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement, calling systemic racism and police brutality another crisis that has been taking place for a long time.
"It seems that maybe we have expected too much of law enforcement and we haven't invested enough in critical government services," she said.
Ultimately, Fontaine feels that Eastern and rural Oregon have some very complex problems, and she is hoping that she can join the legislature and start to address those issues.
"There is so much work we need to do," she said.
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