We told you we would hold elected officials accountable for what they do or don’t do to address fire and the resulting smoke that has choked our communities for the past two summers. Here’s an update on where we stand now that fire season has begun:
President Trump’s Agriculture secretary has proposed closing Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCCs) operated by the Forest Service that train at-risk young people in forestry and firefighting skills and provide extra help on the fire lines. One CCC on the closure list is in Oregon, and two in the state are slated to shift from the Forest Service to the Labor Department, which would contract out operations. That’s unbelievably short-sighted, given the immediate risk facing federal forests throughout the West. Just last week, White House officials blocked a State Department intelligence agency from submitting written testimony to the House Intelligence Committee because the document contained warnings from federal scientists about catastrophic effects from climate change, which include wildfires. The move came after White House officials first tried to remove the scientific findings from the document because they conflict with Trump’s denial that climate change poses a national security threat.
Rep. Greg Walden, who as the only Republican member of the Oregon delegation might be expected to have some sway with the White House, was silent on the Job Corps move. The fact that the center on the closure list is not in his district is no excuse. He gets some credit for helping pass legislation ending fire borrowing, so that federal forest management budgets are not used to pay firefighting costs. His second try at a sweeping forest management bill stands zero chance of passing the House, and would prompt lawsuits over its sidestepping of environmental reviews if it did. Not impressive.
Equally futile is Sen. Jeff Merkley’s bill to spend $1 billion to fund collaborative fuel-reduction projects and award grants to counties for fuel-reduction work. Those are reasonable steps, but the bill got no traction last session and isn’t likely to fare better this year.
State Rep. Pam Marsh gets top marks for her efforts to include $6.8 million in the state budget over and above current funding levels to help the Oregon Department of Forestry get the jump on fires, implement smoke shelters in communities to shield vulnerable people, and put more resources on fire lines to keep fires from growing. Her plan has the support of Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, and Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland.
That do-it-now attitude stands in stark contrast to Gov. Kate Brown’s move to appoint a fire council to report back this fall on recommendations to reduce fire risk in the future. Marsh wants the $6.8 million in the new budget so state agencies can get the money immediately, but Brown hasn’t signed on, saying she wants to wait for her council to report.
Brown continues to live down to our non-endorsement of her last November. Her own budget proposal left forestry funding flat. That’s absolutely unacceptable.
Southern Oregonians want action on wildfires and smoke, and they want it now. Lofty rhetoric and plodding legislation won’t get it done.