WASHINGTON D.C. — With fire season upon us, firefighters are ready to start battling wildfires. But what have our federal lawmakers done to help us avoid another catastrophic wildfire season?
Since June 1, of last year, Senator Jeff Merkley has introduced several bills regarding wildfires, including four new ones designed to protect communities from smoke.
“This is a really big deal to us in Oregon and the entire forest fire belt,” Sen. Merkley said.
Sen. Merkley says he’s trying to help Oregonians battle smoke from wildfires.
“We have had two summers in a row where smoke did enormous damage to our health and to our economy in Oregon and we need to take it on in every way we can,” Sen. Merkley said.
Now he’s introducing four new bills aimed to do just that. It would include funding toward smoke research, help communities better prepare for wildfires, keep employees safe against smoke exposure and allow the president to declare a smoke emergency. However, the senator says they won’t help this fire season.
“It affects our lungs and it affects our businesses and we want to understand all that better and how to fight it,” Sen. Merkley said.
Much of Sen. Merkley’s work has focused more on fire prevention than treatment.
“We want to spend a lot more money on the front end rather than just trying to stop fires after they’re underway,” Sen. Merkley said.
Last fall Sen. Merkley introduced the Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act to help reduce wildfire severity. It would provide one billion dollars toward the U.S. Forest Service and create a county stewardship fund. The goal would be forest thinning and fuels reduction. The bill stalled in the Senate, but he said last week he is still looking to push it through.
“To thin our forests. It produces a supply of and saw logs, jobs in the woods, jobs in the trucks, jobs in the mills and it also makes the forest so much more resilient to fire,” Sen. Merkley said.
Also last year, Sen. Merkley served on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which secured $7 million to be allocated to train citizen soldiers to fight wildfires across the country. Many have already been trained in Oregon, with the last training happening this summer.
This spring, Merkley voted in favor of a $19.1 billion federal disaster package that passed congress and was signed by the president. Some of the money goes toward Oregon agriculture affected by wildfires, while some addresses fire borrowing.
Looking forward, Sen. Merkley says he is going to continue pushing to reduce the smoke damage and make our forests more resilient here in Southern Oregon.
Anna Weeks is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Oregon State University with a degree in Digital Communication Arts and a minor in writing. Previously, she interned with the National Association of Broadcasters at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Originally from the Portland area, Anna is excited to explore Southern Oregon. In her free time, she can be found reading, running or watching sports.