Merkley, Hoyle lead Oregon Delegation, Governor Kotek in Announcing a Secured Five-Year Commitment to State’s Western Wildfire Response 

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representative Val Hoyle—along with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Andrea Salinas, and Lori Chavez-DeRemer—and Oregon Governor Tina Kotek announce today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), and Forest Protective Agencies (FPAs) reached a renewed five-year commitment to the Western Oregon Operating Plan (WOOP).

The WOOP serves as the long-term agreement that governs fire response for the BLM, ODF, and FPAs all over western Oregon. As the previous iteration of the WOOP was set to expire on June 30th, Merkley and Hoyle successfully led the Oregon delegation in encouraging the parties to work in close partnership to secure another agreement to continue their coordination and preparedness—including in their April letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning—which helped lead to a successful long-term renewal of the WOOP.

“As our communities continue to deal with the impacts of fire seasons that are coming earlier, and fires that are burning more frequently and with catastrophic intensity, it was imperative to reach this new agreement that will continue to provide a significant level of long-term stability for communities throughout western Oregon. These communities require reliable and consistent plans to carry out crucial long-term planning and operational tasks that will better prepare them for wildfire risks in the future, and we are confident this five-year reauthorization of the WOOP will continue this mission,” the Oregon delegation said. “The agreement emphasizes interagency cooperation to continue a Wildland Fire Strategy that meets the needs of the communities in western Oregon that are nestled within some of the highest risk firesheds in the country. We applaud the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, and Forest Protective Associations who came together to work out an agreement to help Oregonians be prepared for and combat wildfire threats in the years to come.”

“As wildfires become increasingly complex, Oregon and the Interior Department have once again collaborated on a critical wildfire protection agreement across our intermingled lands west of the Cascades,” Governor Kotek said. “These partnerships are essential to ensure essential resources to fight wildfires. Thank you to our congressional delegation, the Interior Department, and our State Forester. Oregon’s wildfire protection standards which protect our communities and natural resources from the impacts of catastrophic wildfire are in good hands under their leadership.” 

As Chair of the U.S. Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley has direct oversight of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s budget, which includes BLM. He has secured federal resources for wildfire management and ensured language directing BLM to maintain or enhance the level of protection covered through the WOOP was included in government funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2024, which provided a clear direction to BLM to develop this new agreement that “maintains or enhances the current level of fire protection for western Oregon forestlands through the Western Oregon Operating Plan agreement.”

In April, Merkley and Hoyle led the Oregon delegation, to push for the long-term reauthorization of the WOOP, as this multi-agency agreement has proved essential for over a century in the state. This is especially important in southwestern Oregon, which has a checkerboard ownership pattern of BLM forest lands in the western region that is unique and creates approximately 14,000 miles of jurisdictional boundaries between federal, Tribal, state, county, and private timberlands. The complexity of managing fires throughout this area led to agreements to provide protection by the ODF and non-profit FPAs dating back to at least 1914. This agreement ensures that these federally contracted partners are compensated and equipped with the resources necessary to provide enhanced initial attack capability during a wildfire to protect public, private, and Tribal resources throughout the state. The arrangement has been a model of success and continues to this day, and in the years to come, as the WOOP.

“We are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done with the Oregon Department of Forestry, Douglas Forest Protective Association and the Coos Bay Forest Protective Association to get this agreement signed,” said Barry Bushue, BLM OR/WA State Director. “Partnerships like this are key to successful wildland firefighting that protects communities from extreme wildfire in Oregon. This agreement ensures that longstanding partnership between ODF and BLM remains steadfast.”

“The updated operating plan between the Oregon Department of Forestry, forest protective associations and BLM allows us to continue providing a single, strong wildfire protection system on our intermingled lands in western Oregon,” said Cal Mukumoto, Oregon’s State Forester. “Most importantly, it reflects our shared commitment to the safe, rapid and cohesive wildfire response that Oregonians deserve.”

“The Coos Forest Protective Association has been providing fire protection on the BLM O&C lands for over 100 years, and we have a passion for protecting Oregon’s communities and forests from wildfire,” said Tyler McCarty, CFPA District Manager. “The renewal of the Western Oregon Operating Plan and partnership with the BLM allows us to provide fire suppression on those checkerboard lands, reducing the complexity of the wildfire response. This provides a safer fire environment for our firefighters and a higher level of customer service for the citizens and communities of Oregon.”

“Throughout the negotiations, all parties were committed to finding a path forward to continue the 100 year history of ODF and the Forest Protective Associations (FPA) providing fire protection on the O&C lands in western Oregon. The Douglas Forest Protective Association (DFPA), is very honored to be a part of this tradition and the newly signed WOOP will allow us to continue this service in a safe, efficient, and effective manner,” Pat Skrip, DFPA District Manager said.