Merkley Leads Effort to Reduce Wildfire Risk, Boost Economic Opportunities in Forest-Dependent Communities

Washington, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley led Senate colleagues in the introduction of the Wildfire Resilient Communities Act. In recent years, entire towns have been destroyed and thousands of Oregonians have experienced being forced to evacuate due to wildfires. These wildfires are happening earlier, more frequently, and with increasingly catastrophic intensity, producing hazardous plumes of smoke. This legislation would provide dedicated federal support to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, while also empowering communities to prepare for wildfire.

“Across the country, our communities are threatened by increasingly severe wildfires fueled by climate chaos,” said Senator Merkley. “Nearly every Oregonian has in some way experienced the growing threat that wildfires pose to our lives, businesses, and health. Extreme wildfire seasons are not cooling down anytime soon, and we need a considerable increase in resources that make our forests, timber economies, and communities healthier and more resilient.”

This bill is also cosponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

The Wildfire Resilient Communities Act would create a $30 billion fund to allow the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other land management agencies to increase catastrophic wildfire reduction projects; reauthorize and triple funding up to $3 billion for the Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program; permanently reauthorize the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program, which is critical for the five collaboratives in Oregon; and create a County Stewardship Fund that would provide payments matching up to 25 percent of stewardship contracts on federal land.

Merkley has been a longtime leader and advocate for preparing communities to respond and recover from wildfires and the hazardous conditions they create. This summer Merkley introduced two bills to protect Americans from hazardous wildfire smoke and extreme heat.

The Wildfire Resilient Communities Act is endorsed by Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Sustainable Northwest, Blue Mountains Forest Partners, Silvix Resources, and Lomakatsi.

“We have done much work within the City of Ashland and with our Forest Service partners to reduce the risk of wildfire to our community over the past 20 years. At the same time, larger and more extreme wildfires driven by climate change are outpacing our local efforts. Larger scale investment is needed across the West to address this increasing threat, and the Wildfire Resilient Communities Act is a critical part of that effort,” said Tonya Graham, Mayor of Ashland.

“Southern Oregon has been hard hit by the health and economic impacts of smoke and fire,” said Pam Marsh, Oregon State Representative, House District 5. “Senator Merkley’s legislation will help us jumpstart the collaborative forest projects that will protect our communities, while rewarding counties for their support of stewardship agreements.  This is how we’ll start the work that will help us respond to changing conditions.”

“The Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act, is a much needed solution to provide resources that will increase active forest management,” said Mark Owens, Oregon State Representative, House District 60. “This management is the major key to reducing forest fires. Including provisions for forest collaboratives and County funding make this act a home run for western counties.”

The Wildfire Resilient Communities Act supports the critical fuels reduction work that is being done in our communities,” said Paul Anderes, Chair of Union County Board of Commissioners. “This bill will expand upon the progress that has been made in so many landscapes to make our fire prone communities safer.”

“The Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act will be extremely positive for Counties threatened by wildland fire” said Lake County Commissioner Barry Shullanberger. “Senator Merkley has shown how incredibly serious he is about solving the National issue of needed Forest Health and Restoration. This Act is positive piece of legislation for millions of at risk Public Land acres near communities constantly being threatened by wildfires. Our sincere thanks goes out to Senator Merkley.”

“Through focused investments in forest restoration and community protection we can prepare our communities and landscapes for wildfires,” said Michael Dotson, Executive Director of Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “Our forests were more adapted to fire before we cut down so many of the large, fire resistant trees. We replaced too many of our old growth forests with flammable second growth forests. We need to fund the kind of work that can restore our forests and help build more fire and climate resilient landscapes and communities, and Sen. Merkley’s bill would help us do that.”

“The need for increased investment in our federal forests and rural communities has never been more urgent,” said Dylan Kruse, Vice President at Sustainable Northwest. “We can’t afford to keep playing catch up. This bill takes immediate action to address the massive management backlog on our forests, and expands bipartisan programs to prepare for the future. We commend Senator Merkley for rising above the partisan fray and introducing legislation that will make a real difference with resources that meet the scale of need.”

“Senator Merkley is to be commended for reintroduction of the Wildfire Resilient Communities Act, which will provide important funding for community preparedness and wildfire risk reduction on federal lands, in addition to reauthorizing the phenomenally successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and providing the funding necessary to continue this important forest health work,” said Susan Jane Brown, Principal, Silvix Resources.

“Under Senator Merkley’s leadership, this Act would provide much needed, long-term funding for collaborative, science-based strategies to reduce wildfire risk while increasing forest health and supporting local economies. It elevates stewardship-based forestry, an ecologically-centered approach to restoration that Lomakatsi has championed and utilized for two decades to build ecosystem and community resilience across the landscape, with agency, tribal, and non-profit partners, in close coordination with the communities we serve,” said Marko Bey, Executive Director, Lomakatsi Restoration Project.

Bill text can be found here.

A bill summary can be found here.