This summer has brought with it some of the worst fires in our state’s history. Over 678,000 acres have burned across our state this year. We’ve spent over $340 million fighting fires in Oregon, and over $2 billion fighting fires across the country. It seemed as if every day came with new reports of smoke and fires. Now that the first fall rains have arrived, we can and should turn our attention to the recovery and restoration efforts.From the Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia Gorge — burning just miles from my home in Hood River — to the Chetco Bar fire burning in southwest Oregon and pouring smoke into the Rogue Valley, the devastation this summer is a potent reminder that change is needed. Congress needs to act now on forest management reform. Enough is enough.
On Friday, I was in Medford to discuss the economic impact this year’s fire season has had on southern Oregon. Smoke clogged skies led to cancelled bookings and lost revenue in everything from hotels and real estate to sporting events and zip line tours. The Ashland Shakespeare Festival alone had to cancel nine shows, at a $400,000 loss in direct revenue, not counting lost economic benefit from attendees to those shows, 85 percent of whom are from out of the state. I heard loud and clear the concerns that the fire, smoke and unhealthy air quality is a new normal that will impact tourism going forward, with a significant impact on jobs in our communities.
I hope you’ll continue reading to learn more about my recent efforts to push for changes in the way we manage our forests, and the pictures Oregonians have sent me of their firsthand experience with devastating fires and smoke-choked air this summer.
Fire photos from Oregon
Whether Oregonians felt the effects of the Chetco Bar fire, the Milli fire, the Eagle Creek fire, or any of the dozens of fires burning across our state, I heard about how their lives and communities were negatively impacted. Their photos help capture the full picture of how wildfires have become part of our day-to-day lives every summer in Oregon.
Sue, from Rogue River, sent me this photo of what looks like fog on her pasture. In reality, this is dense smoke from the Chetco Bar fire currently burning over 191,000 acres.
John, from Prineville, sent me this picture from his drive through central Oregon. Charred trees line the highway as he makes his way through a region that for nearly three straight weeks had an air quality index listed as unhealthy.
Dave, returning from a hunting trip, sent me this photo of the furious Eagle Creek fire burning between Hood River and Cascade Locks.
On the ground at the Eagle Creek fire
On his first day on the job, I met with Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke to discuss the need for changes to forest management. He was joined by USDA official (and Oregonian) Doug Crandall. Thank you to Chief Tooke for coming to Oregon and getting a firsthand look at our situation.
Just hours after he was officially sworn in, I met with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke to discuss the need for changes to forest management to reduce the risk of catastrophic wild fires and improve the health of our forests. Following our meeting, we traveled to Oregon to continue our discussion and meet with fire officials on the ground working to contain the Eagle Creek fire in the Gorge.
I got to thank the brave men and women who worked tirelessly to extinguish the blaze and begin the recovery. During our meeting, I announced legislation I introduced — the Scenic Columbia Gorge Restoration Act — to help restore the Columbia Gorge’s scenic character by streamlining cleanup and reforestation activities. To read more about this bill, please click here
It was great to meet with the brave men and women of the crew that rescued 150 hikers from the fury of the Eagle Creek fire on the Eagle Creek Trail
Emergency communications are vital to fire response in Oregon
Back in our nation’s capital, the House Energy and Commerce Committee — where I serve as chairman — held a hearing on the importance of reliable communications systems in emergencies. During the hearing, I highlighted the importance of these emergency communications systems during catastrophic events such as the devastating fires that have ravaged Oregon throughout the summer, as well as hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Along with our brave first responders, firefighters, and EMTs, our broadcasters — both public and commercial — have helped out in the fire response in Oregon every step of the way. This fire season reminds us that we must make sure that we have the most vibrant, modern, and reliable communications platforms in the world to provide emergency operations to Oregonians. That is a priority of mine as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
When others have been told to evacuate in Oregon this summer, our firefighters have stayed behind to protect people, property, infrastructure, watersheds, and habitats in our state. Firefighters should know that we have their backs when they put themselves in harm’s way. That’s why I supported legislation that originated in the Energy and Commerce Committee and passed through the House recently aimed at improving firefighter health.
The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act is important public health legislation that will require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and maintain a voluntary registry to collect data regarding the incidence of cancer in firefighters. This registry will allow researchers to have a greater understanding of the impacts smoke inhalation and other occupational hazards have on a firefighter’s health, and lead to better treatment options. Learn more about this legislation here.
Examining the air quality impacts of catastrophic fires in Oregon
Smoke inhalation is a health hazard for our firefighters, and it is also increasingly a health hazard for everyday Oregonians in their communities each summer. We watched again this year as smoke trapped people in their homes, cancelled popular community events, and even closed our schools just days into the new school year.
Past data show fires burning over 11 million acres spew as much carbon monoxide into the air as all the cars and factories in the continental United States during those same months — we’ve had over 8.2 million acres burn nationally this year. Moreover, a recent study by the Georgia Institute of Technology found that wildfires are contributing three times as much fine particulate matter into the air as previously thought — which can cause respiratory problems and inhibit our ability to breathe.
At the Energy and Commerce Committee, we are going to examine the air quality impacts of large-scale fires that pour pollutants into the atmosphere and fill Oregon’s skies with smoke each summer. I will be sure to keep you up to date as our committee puts our resources towards this important task.
The bottom line is: enough is enough. The status quo is not working for our communities or our forests. It’s time for Congress to act to fix our broken federal forest policy.
For the fifth time in five years, the House is moving forward with legislation I helped craft — the Resilient Federal Forests Act — to fix forest management and help reduce the risk of wildfire. This legislation will finally allow for proper management in our forests to clean up the dense fuel loads that have created a tinder box waiting to ignite.
By streamlining management activities, we can get back to work in the woods, clean up our federal forests, and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires and air-choking smoke our communities face this summer. Know that I am committed to getting this job done. To read more about the Resilient Federal Forests Act, please click here.