Gov. Brown, Sen. Merkley tour South Obenchain burn scar, talk proposed bipartisan bill

SOUTHERN OREGON, Ore. – After touring the burn scar from the South Obenchain fire on Thursday, Governor Kate Brown, Senator Jeff Merkley and other state and federal officials discussed how the infrastructure bill could help mitigate fire incidents in the future.

The proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, which has yet to be passed, includes billions towards climate change research, wildfire prevention, conservation efforts, and drought relief.

“It’s been clear for a number of years now that we are fighting fires of a new age but made much more intense by climate using tools of the last century,” Brown said.

The proposed bill includes forest management for the National Forest System, including $2.4 billion towards fuel reductions.

Senator Merkley explained, if the bill is passed, the funding would go towards three main fire prevention and preparedness tactics: hazard fuels reduction strategies, disaster recovery, and increase firefighting efforts.

“The bill would include billions for fuel reduction forest treatment, and we have over two million acres that have already been approved for thinning in Oregon, we are ready to move, we just need the funding,” Merkley said.

He noted that fuel reduction strategies have already proven to be successful in this past wildfire season.

“There was a section in the Bootleg fire that was treated, and the fire slowed down,” he said. “We really need to spotlight areas that are near our towns, those are the most important to do this thinning, in the wildland-urban interface areas.”

The bill would also include billions towards current fire recovery.

Gov. Brown said after last year’s Labor Day fires, it is crucial the bill passes because it would help with the funding needed to continue the rebuild.

She noted she would like to see fire disaster recovers sped up because many Oregonians are still displaced over a year after the fires.