MEDFORD, Ore.– Fires are becoming a costly endeavor for state and local agencies having to battle them. Early Sunday, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden met with officials from state and federal agencies in Medford to receive a briefing on the current situation with the southern Oregon fires and how recent wildfire funding was helping agencies combat them.
“It’s like being in the second inning of a nine inning baseball game,” said Merv George, forest supervisor for U.S. Forest Service Rogue River-Siskiyou.
Southern Oregon is barely through a quarter of it’s fire season and agencies are spending everything they have to fight two fronts. Along with the U.S. Forest Service, members from ODF and BLM were in attendance at the meeting to share their concerns and updates for Sen. Wyden.
“You know, right now because it’s fire suppression efforts, we’re actually still doing fuels reduction to try to prevent future fire suppression,” said George.
Sen. Wyden acknowledged this problem during the meeting and
“If we don’t come up with some additional opportunities and strategies for dealing with this, we’re gonna have clean air refugees and that’s just going to be a public health crisis,” he said.
Luckily, with the help of other members of Congress, new funding has been secured to provide relief to state and federal agencies fighting fires.
“We were able to get millions more for fire suppression because we knew that we were going to have to focus on that this year,” said Wyden. “That these fires are bigger and more powerful.”
Wyden says the real ticket is in the omnibus bill that will provide better funding for crews to do more fuel reduction by 2020.
“There is going to be a real change and we gotta make sure that our communities are safe, that we deal with the immediate threat and then we’ll start seeing, ramp-in the prevention kind of efforts,” he said.
George says that the agencies couldn’t be happier to receive the help.
“Not have to worry about using non-fire dollars for fire suppression efforts in the future,” said George. “So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to do more fuel reduction in the future not less. So that omnibus bill will definitely help with that.”
On the other side of the aisle, Congressman Greg Walden recently passed new laws to help improve forest management policy such as providing more resources for the Forest Service as well as additional forest policy reforms in the 2018 Farm Bill passed through the House.
In a statement, Rep. Walden said: “We cannot stand by while our communities are choked with smoke and forests burn all summer year after year. I will continue to work with my colleagues and the administration to ensure the tools we secured in law are being used, and these fires are being fought as aggressively and rapidly as possible.
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