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Don Rogers: Start at the core

I look for root causes, the trickle upstream of the torrent, the crack in the foundation.

Focus on symptoms and what happens is another, maybe worse, symptom pops up. But this is mainly how we try to right society's ills.

Our forest provides a great example. Keep the trees from burning and more destructive wildfires result. Stop logging and watch an already overgrown forest's health decline. Oops, here comes the beetle kill. Horrible, sure, but really it's just trying to do nature's work through another means.

So we endure bigger, hotter fires taking out vast tracts of live trees in addition to nearly 100 million acres of bug-killed forest along the Sierra Nevada alone. But we have … environmental legislation. Great.

... too many residents here seem to exist in separate rooms where they don’t even meet people with different views and are too quick to demonize the “other.”

This isn't merely the inevitable result of the weather a degree or two warmer now. California has endured countless drought cycles, many much deeper and longer than this past one. No, we've failed to focus on the underlying issue.

What would be effective? Aggressive controlled burning before and after peak fire season to clean out underbrush and weaker trees. Selective logging. Those would be good starts. They'd certainly help the forest far more than whatever we think we're doing now, playing whack-a-mole with the symptoms of overgrowth.

Housing costs too much, and 500 or so people are homeless in Nevada County. We lack jobs. Fewer young families can afford to live here. We do half our shopping out of the county and so miss out on tax revenue and dollars circulating in our community. Drug and alcohol abuse runs high. Illegal marijuana cultivation, unsurprisingly, is taking a growing share of our overall economy.

These also are symptoms of something more structural, though perhaps less obvious than a forest artificially left to grow too dense.

Anti-growth efforts have exacerbated the problems we spend endless amounts of energy and money arguing about and ineffectually "solving." That's because we're not working on the foundation.

Fighting growth has consequences. Sure, building does too, but we're a far, far way from being in danger of overdevelopment at this stage. Frankly, we need some again.

Figuring out how to make development easier rather than harder and more expensive would go a long way toward solving a host of maladies we've let do worse damage to our community.

The hard fact is if our economic engine sputters, quality of life follows suit. Choke off economic vitality and the result isn't pretty.

We can see consequences in such things as school enrollment eroding, housing costs growing ever more out of reach of regular folks, fewer good jobs and a range of social ills accompanying a stalled local economy.

Political discourse is another root problem. How we talk with one another needs to change, I think.

This is the most politically divided community I've run across, and the ratio of liberals to conservatives has largely evened up in recent years. But that's not such big deal compared to our failure to listen to understand vs. barely wait to start shouting again.

I know plenty of people fall in the middle, like me, fiscally maybe more prudent and socially tolerant. Still, a bit more than elsewhere, too many residents here seem to exist in separate rooms where they don't even meet people with different views and are too quick to demonize the "other."

It's been suggested to me that this division is just newspaper exaggeration by amplification. People with bigger bees in their bonnet are more likely to write stinging op-eds and letters, after all. This is true to an extent, but it's deeper than that. I find more people here a lot less generous toward folks with the "wrong" views.

We need to recognize this so we can do something about it. This one might be the easiest of this Big Three to solve. All we have to do is listen to understand; we don't have to agree. Good grief.

Forest overgrowth is emblematic of environmental protection efforts that don't. Anti-growth instincts exacerbate societal problems. Failure to listen might well be the nub of it all.

The surest path to improvement follows along these three roots. It would be amazing what else got solved if we did just a little better with these.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 530-477-4299.