BEND, OR -- Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) met Wednesday with local Forestry officials, along with those from the BLM and regional fire managers, to get an update on this year’s fire season.
Deschutes National Forest Supervisor John Allen told the Senator we could be in for a high-risk August. "While we had a good snowpack above 6,000’, we didn’t really have much of a snowpack below 5,000’ and so our lower elevation forests are very dry. In my mind, we have this dichotomy going on, where the lower elevations are really exemplifying the drought that we’ve had the last handful of years." With fewer than 130 fires so far this year, he says Central Oregon's fire season has been quieter than average.
Wyden was encouraged by continued collaboration between county, state and federal agencies and says Central Oregon should serve as a model for how to make the most out of limited federal funds. "What is striking about this community is, on practically every issue relating to natural resources, the first thing they do is try to look at ways at which they can make resources stretch and build partnerships. In other words, these collaborations, in addition to focusing on prevention, also, at a time of scarce government resources, help you get more value for the dollar."
But, he tells KBND News, the current wildfire funding system is broken. "The fact that you have this system that has been stacked, funding-wise, against prevention causes chaos all the way through the system." Wyden says Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has signed on to support his Wildfire Disaster Funding Act because large fires in the west impact prevention efforts everywhere else. "Fire borrowing, to the extent that this has been so pervasive when you have these fires and you can’t afford to fund them, really causes a whole lot of dominoes to fall in a very destructive fashion." Wyden’s bill is scheduled for a Conference Committee between the Senate and the House in September.
Forestry officials told the Senator if his bill passes they would use any extra money for additional prescribed burns.