Last year was a record fire year nationally. In Oregon, over 714,000 acres burned while our communities choked on smoke. The outlook for this year is bleak, with forecast for another above normal fire season across most of the West. Enough is enough. We have to do more to manage our forests; we can’t stand by and let them burn all summer.
Earlier this year I worked with my colleagues to pass the most substantial forest management reforms in over a decade. I’ve met with Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and U.S. Forest Service Chief Vickie Christiansen to discuss better forest management and the challenges we face this fire year. I welcome their commitment to utilize the new tools we passed into law. These new tools are important steps in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done to improve the management of our forests and put people back to work in the woods.
That’s why I worked with my colleagues to secure additional needed forest policy reforms in the 2018 Farm Bill, which recently passed the House with my support. These reforms will streamline forest management projects that create jobs and help prevent the catastrophic fires we see each year. Specifically, this legislation would cut through the red tape and obstructionist litigation by giving forest managers tools to swiftly implement timber projects that reduce fuel loads, protect municipal water sources or address insect and disease in tree stands. This legislation also will help hold the agencies accountable by requiring an annual report to Congress on wildfire prevention efforts, including how many acres are treated and how much timber they produce.
When fires do strike, it’s important that the agencies act promptly, rather than taking a “let it burn” approach to fighting these fires as we saw last year on the Chetco Bar Fire. Representative Peter DeFazio and I have asked the Government Accountability Office to look into how that fire was fought, and I look forward to the results of that investigation. Once the fires are out, we should get in, clean up and replant — just like what happens on private, state, and county forest lands across Oregon. This legislation would help ensure that happens.
I look forward to this bill moving swiftly to the president’s desk for signing, so we can continue to improve the management of our federal forests. With this summer’s fire season already under way, I will work with the administration and my colleagues in Congress to ensure the tools we have are being used, and these fires are being fought as directly and rapidly as possible.
If you’d like to know more about the work that’s getting done, I encourage you to sign up for my eNewsletters so you can stay up to date on more work at home and in Washington D.C. by going to my website here.
Oregon’s Second District