Editorials

Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Columbian and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Eventually, we will return.

With some roads near the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge reopening — including Interstate 84 — visitors will return to the iconic area. They will come to see the scorched trees and the burned-out landscape, and to lament the loss of something that has been precious to generations of Washingtonians and Oregonians. But as thoughts begin to turn from the area’s destruction and toward its recovery, caution is required.

The Eagle Creek Fire, which officials say was started by a 15-year-old Vancouver boy playing with fireworks, changed nearly 50,000 acres of previously stunning landscape. Even when areas are free of fire danger, the threat of landslides and unstable trees creates concern. On Thursday, officials showed a pile of more than 4,000 trees — mostly Douglas fir and cottonwoods — that have been removed because they presented a danger to motorists or workers in the area.

That work will continue, and the pending rainy season will further destabilize the area. New maps have been published to highlight areas at the greatest risk of landslides (http://www.oregongeology.org/slido/), and many trails are expected to be closed until spring — after officials can assess damage and complete repair work. “It’s extremely important for people to be more aware than ever of landslide hazards in this area,” engineering geologist Bill Burns said. He added, “When an area like this has a wildfire, it actually increases the susceptibility.”

The destruction is particularly disconcerting for residents of towns throughout the Gorge, where the economy has been blistered by the blaze. With the fire starting the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and with Interstate 84 closed for nearly two weeks, towns that rely upon tourism have suffered a deep economic impact, particularly along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Even outside of areas that were evacuated, the downturn has been notable as visitors stopped arriving.

And yet, the area will recover. Residents of Southwest Washington are well aware of nature’s ability to rejuvenate, having witnessed the destruction and rebirth of the region surrounding Mount St. Helens in the past 37 years. While the Eagle Creek Fire brings an extra sense of despair because it was human-caused rather than an act of nature, there is faith that the Gorge will rehabilitate itself.

That will take time, and officials should work to help in that rejuvenation. Because the Gorge and surrounding lands are scenic areas or designated wilderness, commercial logging and the replanting of trees is not allowed — a prohibition that should be reconsidered in this case. Officials say there are provisions for changing those rules, but such a move would be unusual.

The truth is that the Gorge will never be the same — but that is not necessarily a cause for despair. It will grow in new ways, with different plants thriving in the altered landscape and a new ecosystem developing. Wildlife will return to burned-out areas and the trees eventually will be as majestic as they once were.

Nature will work its wonder and return to the areas destroyed by the Eagle Creek Fire.

And so will we.

State school chief’s plan is sound

As the state Legislature spent the past five years wrestling with how it would improve education, the focus has been on money. It’s been about how many billions of dollars will have to be spent to fully fund basic education.

Lost in all those discussions — at least to most Washingtonians — was an actual state plan aimed specifically at helping students do better in school.

Now that the dollars have been added to the state education budget to (hopefully) comply with the state Supreme Court’s mandate, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal is moving forward with a plan to do just that.

Reykdal was in Pasco at Marie Curie STEM Elementary School last week to announce the submission of the state’s plan to meet the requirements set out in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The most recently approved federal education law, which replaces the lousy No Child Left Behind Act, calls for each state to develop a plan showing how they will spend federal dollars.

But Reykdal’s plan goes beyond developing a plan for federal money, it will look at the entire school system. That’s the correct approach.

“Our plan creates a more efficient state system,” Reykdal told The Tri-City Herald on his visit. “Districts will have more flexibility in using funds than they ever have.”

The basics of the new plan would give local school districts more power to decide how to reach the most needy students.

That’s how it should be. This is why local school boards are empowered to set the agenda for each individual school district. They know their communities and can best establish standards that will work best for that area.

In fact, the federal government has no constitutional authority regarding education. The only way it can insert itself is by withholding money from districts that won’t follow its rules.

In moving beyond the federal requirements attached to funding, Reykdal is putting more power in the hands of local school boards.

Reykdal said each school would receive an annual report card starting in the 2018-19 school year. School officials and the public would be able to examine the different groups at the school by income level, race or other groups.

“You will be able to drill down further and further in the detail, so if school districts work with their board and their community, they can write very specific performance plans by school based on the very specific performance results,” Reykdal said.

In theory, Reykdal is on the right track. It’s an approach the Legislature should embrace moving forward and work with superintendent to make it happen.

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