OPINION: Let's protect open spaces in Washington County
With all of the recent attention on the topic of climate change on a national and local level, it is important to remember and think about its societal effects on a broader basis and the various levels contributing to this global issue.
Much of the current media and government focus resides around clean energy, better infrastructure, environmental regulations and carbon credits which is a start.
But citizens need to think about all of the micro issues that contribute to climate change in their surrounding area. In this case, Washington County at large.
More than 65,000 acres of farmland have been lost in Oregon since 2000. One could even make the argument that large-scale developments that are arising all over are environmentally worse for the planet, given the amount of resources and energy it takes to build housing developments and pave over pristine land with asphalt that can never be recovered. We lose the grass, insects, soil and wildlife that existed in that microenvironment.
Washington County currently does not have a countywide tree code, which has been rejected numerous times after groups like the Urban Greenspace Institute have made proposals. Only recently in the South Cooper Mountain development, numerous old-growth oak trees were simply cut down in the name of progress.
The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission has issued an enforcement order against Washington County for its lack of compliance with statewide land use planning goals designed to protect significant natural resources. Citizens have been working with the county in crafting new ordinances, ensuring that the remaining 15% of these wildlife habitats are protected to safeguard their existence for future generations.
The Westside Hayden Rock Quarry, as reported by the Pamplin Media Group, was found in violation of several environmental regulations.
As recently as 2016, Intel, one of the largest employers and polluters in Oregon, asked the Department of Environmental Quality to grant a new permit raising the emission levels in some cases by more than double, which DEQ complied with.
Currently, there are proposed Ordinances 881, 882 and 883, which call for an exception or approval to extend future roadways through rural lands.
These are just a few instances within one county of Oregon that have contributed to climate change rather than detract from it.
On the contrary, open spaces and crops have proved their benefits to the larger environment and climate change. In a study from Mandan, North Dakota, in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service's Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory, 50 acres of no-till perennial alfalfa without fertilizer was left to grow, and they found over a six-month period, the crop removed 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre.
While some progress is inevitable, it is critical that every citizen and official must remember everything has a cost, and at some point, we are all going to have to decide if the benefits outweigh those costs in the fight against climate change, or if Oregon's unofficial mantra of "keep Oregon green" still applies.
Andy Haugen is a social studies teacher at Valley Catholic High School and chair of Community Participation Organization 10 in Washington County. He lives near Hillsboro.
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