Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS) is investing $23.5 million in 10 project proposals in Oregon that will help make communities across the state more resilient to severe wildfires. 

The funding is part of the Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which makes $1 billion available over five years to protect communities and tribal lands across the country that are at-risk for wildfires.

“Every Oregonian has experienced in some way the growing threat that extreme wildfires pose to our livelihoods, health, and the Oregon way of life,” said Sen. Merkley, who successfully fought to double the funding available for the Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program in his role as the Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “These critical investments the USFS is making will help provide local partners with the tools they need to keep our homes, businesses, and communities safer, while protecting public, private, and tribal lands in Oregon from devastating wildfires. I’ll keep fighting to make sure Oregon gets the support it needs to take on wildfire threats in every corner of the state.”

“These federal investments in wildfire protection statewide are welcome news this first week of spring as Oregonians look forward to warmer weather, but also to the increased threats from destructive blazes that come with hotter temperatures,” Wyden said. “The best defense is a good offense, and that’s exactly what these federal resources will achieve to reduce wildfire risks for our state’s communities. I’ll never stop battling to add every possible wildfire fighting tool to the firefighting arsenal that Oregon deserves to protect lives and properties.”

In total, the USFS is investing $197 million through this initial round of funding under the Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program in 100 grant proposals from 22 states and seven tribes that were impacted or threatened by uncharacteristic wildfires, including helping communities developing or strengthen Community Wildfire Protection Plans, which are roadmaps to addressing wildfire risks on a local level.

The 10 Oregon projects selected for the first round of funding under this critical program that was championed by Senators Merkley and Wyden are as follows:

  • Grant Soil & Water Conservation District, Grant County Evacuation Corridor and Fuels Management Project: $9,907,344 to perform hazardous fuels reduction on 308 miles of road (616 miles of shoulder) of county roads that serve as evacuation routes for residences in need of treatment. Additionally, treat 100,000 acres of fine fuels prioritizing areas around communities and pre-commercially thin 2,000 acres.
  • Douglas Electric Cooperative Fuels Treatments, Vegetation Management, and Other Mitigation: $9,151,505 to reduce fuel buildup in high-risk wildfire areas, enhance the utility right-of-way’s ability to function as fire breaks, and to increase forest health. This will minimize the probability that Douglas Electric’s transmission and distribution system may be the origin or be a contributing source for an ignition of a fire. Funding from this program will enable Douglas Electric Cooperative (DEC) to reduce its vegetation management program to a 3 to 4-year cycle. It will address hazard trees (snags and cycle busters) not in the traditional utility space. The DEC service area covers 2,200 square miles and the project will be conducted along 1,275 miles of power lines.
  • Curry County Soil and Water Conservation District, Gorse Fuels Treatment to Reduce Catastrophic Wildfire: $1,338,078 to implement hazardous wildfire fuels reduction that has been prioritized in the Curry County Community Wildfire Protection Plan and the Curry County Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan. This grant will be used to treat the area and reduce the wildfire risk to multiple communities from an invasive species. 
  • Wheeler County of Emergency Management, Wheeler County fire protection roadway shoulder clearing: $992,815 to treat 250 miles of Wheeler County roadside right-of-way fuels reduction. This will be accomplished with the purchase and use of a new tractor with a 22 feet boom, mower head attachment, and 50 inch mulching head attachment. This will treat 50 miles per year over the five-year period for a total of 250 miles, or 1,210 acres total over the five-year period. 
  • Oregon Department of Forestry, John Day; Grant County Defensible Space: $681,041 to focus on 300 acres of fuels reduction treatments for Grant County landowners in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), installation of Firewise communities, outreach, and education in the high-risk communities of John Day, Mt. Vernon, Prairie City, Dayville, Granite, Monument, Canyon City, Long Creek, and Seneca. 
  • Klamath Watershed Partnership, Chiloquin Wildfire Risk Reduction and Education: $616,404 to implement 165 acres of defensible space treatments over five years. Develop and implement a brush dump program to encourage and facilitates landowner and neighborhood conducted defensible space cleanup projects. Providing up to two dump trailers for cleanup activities and haul brush to the dump. To design, purchase, and deploy a multi-use wildfire education trailer for community education and outreach at 7 to 10 events per year and also use as mobile information distribution point during a wildfire, as needed. Build capacity and sustainability within Chiloquin Fire and Rescue through development of a part-time Mitigation Specialist position to coordinate the activities of this project and to plan future projects.
  • City of Ashland, Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update: $249,700 to rewrite of Ashland’s 2004 Community Wildfire Protection Plan. This will enable the city to better understand wildfire risk in the built environment, integrate Wildland Urban Interface risk reduction projects developed in the past 19 years and wrestle with fire-adapted community issues. Including capacity limits, address vulnerable population knowledge gaps, map out, and prioritize community initiatives based on extensive public engagement. The Community Wildfire Protection Plan will address the 2021 Oregon State Forest Plan’s priority issues of climate change, diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Wildfire mitigation capacity and recovery, forest health, and water quality and quantity will also be addressed.
  • Baker County Community Wildfire Protection Plan Update: $246,000 to complete a Community Wildfire Protection Plan update and revision to our current and long-standing Community Wildfire Protection Plan.
  • Rocky Point Fire and Emergency Medical Services, Rocky Point Urban Interface Community Wildfire Protection Plan: $224,717 to update and implement the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, reduce the risk of Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), and to reduce fuels where homes and resorts are currently located.
  • Illinois Valley Soil & Water Conservation District, Community Action for Wildfire Resiliency Project: $113,744 to treat areas within a highly vulnerable Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas proximate to federally managed forest lands. The proposed treatment areas range in size from 0.25 to 40 acres. They contain a mixture of high elevation conifer and hardwood tree species and intermixed with oak/pine woodlands and ceanothus brush fields at the lower elevations. The proposed treatments are intended to reduce the likelihood of a wildfire originating from, or traversing, forest lands. This would impact or cause loss and damage to private residences, businesses, and community assets.

This latest USFS investment to mitigate severe wildfires comes ahead of a hearing Senator Merkley is holding today in his role as Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman, when he will lead a review of the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request for the USFS. The hearing will include proposals to improve compensation and conditions for federal firefighters and the agency workforce on the whole. Merkley will also discuss wildfire prevention and fuels reduction projects in Oregon, engaging tribes in co-stewardship of public lands, and encouraging the use of mass timber in construction with Forest Service Chief Randy Moore.