WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Ron Wyden says he has been working to help fix some of the struggles Southern Oregon knows all too well. In the last year, he says he’s focused on wildfire prevention.
“The prevention has gotten short shrift,” Sen. Wyden said.
Sen. Wyden said one of his greatest accomplishments has been to end fire borrowing. Fire borrowing is when federal agencies divert funds from forest health and fire prevention to fight wildfires.
“The big fires get fought from funds from the disaster fund, not with the prevention fund,” Sen. Wyden said.
Sen. Wyden co-sponsored the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act in 2017. Though it did not become law, his office says it was part of a larger omnibus package that was passed earlier this year. Sen. Wyden says it will go into affect in the next fiscal year.
“The forest service and others believe that this is the biggest change in fire policy in decades,” Sen. Wyden said.
Within the last month, the senator also announced a proposal of changing the definition of renewable biomass. This would allow woody biomass to be a source of renewable fuels. He says this would also help pay for projects to thin unhealthy second-growth forests and make it feasible for private landowners to remove low-brush.
“We’re at the point now where fire season is practically year round,” Sen. Wyden said.
Last August, Sen. Wyden sponsored the Clean Air Refugee Assistance Act. The bill would help people seek temporary lodging aid if the air quality index is determined to be unhealthy for three consecutive days due to a wildfire. It died in Congress, but Sen. Wyden said it is still important.
“The public health experts say is a must. There must be ways to address these health impacts of smoke ventilation,” Sen. Wyden said.
In September of 2018, Sen. Wyden joined Sen. Jeff Merkley in pushing for bilingual fire training materials. Sen. Wyden says there still needs to be more work to get this funded.
“Wildfire is a clear and present danger in Southern Oregon and across the west. I have no higher priority. We got millions of acres that could be thinned right now and I’m preaching the forest service to do it,” Sen. Wyden said.
Last Thursday, Sen. Wyden also raised concerns about a new U.S. Forest Service proposal. It would allow the Forest Service to take action in forest management without environmental review.
Like Sen. Merkley and Rep. Walden, Sen. Wyden voted in favor of a $19.1 billion disaster package that was passed by congress and signed by the president this month. Some of that money goes toward Oregon agriculture affected by wildfires, while some addresses fire borrowing.
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.