Editorials-logo-thumbLocal expertise

Two local, smallish organizations with outsized reputations beyond the valley were in the news recently, in each case demonstrating why sometimes the world looks to the Methow for leadership.

Planetary scientist Thomas McCord, founder of the Bear Fight Institute north of Winthrop, was bestowed the highest honor that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration accords researchers who have made extraordinary contributions to space exploration: the Distinguished Public Service Medal.

McCord has had a long and productive academic and research career that has included pioneering innovations for learning about the universe beyond our planet. For an in-depth look at McCord’s accomplishments, see the story on page A1.

The Pacific Biodiversity Institute (PBI) in Winthrop also caused a bit of a splash when it recently published a study on the Yarnell, Ariz., fire that was picked up by media outlets around the country.

The PBI study is a blunt and unsparing assessment of what caused the Yarnell fire to be so deadly and destructive, again raising questions about how well prepared many western communities are for the annual fire dangers they face.

PBI founder Peter Morrison and staff botanist George Wooten, who together authored the quickly prepared study of the Yarnell fire, are listened to on the topic of wildfires because they know what they’re talking about. For a more-detailed look at the study, see the story on page A1. Here are a few highlights:

• Tragedies like the Yarnell Hill Fire are preventable.

• The focus of national wildfire policy should shift from fire suppression to fire adaptation, rather than spending billions of dollars every year trying to fight wildfires.

• Citizens and elected officials need to be much more careful about deploying firefighters in extremely hazardous situations where they are risking their lives to protect property.

Some of those points are reiterated in the Writers on the Range opinion piece on this page.

Certain kinds of research can, for the most part, be done from anywhere. Researchers have choices. We’re fortunate that well regarded organizations like the Bear Fight Institute and Pacific Biodiversity Institute have chosen to call the Methow home.


Local decisions

As is often the case, the small consequences of big ideas are being felt in the Methow. In this instance, it’s the Town of Winthrop that is trying to figure out how to administer, on a local level, the practical implications of Initiative 502, which decriminalized marijuana in Washington state.

What happens, under the new state law, if someone wants to establish a marijuana-related business in the small town? Much of that is being sorted out by the state Liquor Control Board. But the town would have to decide whether and where to allow such a business.

For now, the town is taking a wait-and-see approach rather than act in the absence of information or necessity. It’s likely that Winthrop and Twisp will both have to revisit the issue sooner rather than later, and they’re going to want public input. The statewide voters had their say. Now the community’s voice needs to be heard.

Don Nelson