Merkley, Wyden Announce Funding for Natural Resources, Emergency Preparedness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced key provisions in the U.S. Department of Interior Appropriations bill that provide critical investments in earthquake preparedness, water infrastructure, and wildfire suppression and recovery activities that are of particular importance to Oregon as wildfires become increasingly frequent and extreme. The Appropriations bill passed the full Senate today.

“From flames that threaten homes to hazardous smoke that blankets entire communities, every Oregonian has experienced the consequences of increasingly severe and frequent wildfires,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This bill invests in both recovery and prevention efforts to save our forests, our communities, and our farms, ranches and other businesses from devastating losses. It also secures critical resources for water infrastructure that will create jobs while improving sanitation and drinking water across Oregon. I will continue to use my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fight for the emergency and long-term resources communities across Oregon rely on.”

“Preparedness, protection and prevention are always key watchwords when it comes to achieving the goal of keeping Oregonians safe,” Wyden said. “These investments are crucial to achieve that objective because they prepare Oregon communities to survive a devastating earthquake, protect safe drinking water and prevent wildfires that threaten lives and businesses throughout our state.”

“This is exciting news for all of us who care about the future of wildlife,” said Dr. Don Moore, Oregon Zoo director. “This bill provides critical federal funding for species recovery efforts, including our program raising and releasing highly endangered California condors. Through creative partnerships, we leverage federal funds with matching local public and private contributions, making programs like ours a great investment. Thanks to the leadership of Senators Merkley and Wyden, we can all look forward to a day when healthy populations of condors soar over Oregon and their habitats across the West.”

“This increase of $3 million—to $7 million—in federal support for the Klamath Basin’s sucker propagation projects will help tremendously as we continue to move things in the right direction to improve water quality and the health of the C’waam and Koptu,” said Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes. “Not only has Senator Merkley brought together folks in the Basin to try to tackle issues affecting Klamath Lake, he has also helped fund our efforts. We thank Senator Merkley for his continued leadership on this issue that is so important to us.”

“This funding is critical to support the collaborative work being done to address Sudden Oak Death,” said Mark Labhart, member of the SOD task force and member of the governor’s Wildfire Response Council. “Along with state funding and incredible work from our task force of diverse stakeholders, this federal funding will help us make progress in stopping the spread of the SOD and EU1 pathogens. We thank Senator Merkley for his continued support.”

“The best way to reduce wildfire risk on the Malheur National Forest and other fire-adapted landscapes in eastern Oregon is to actively manage and restore them,” said Mark Webb, Executive Director of Blue Mountains Forest Partners, which is a member of the Southern Blues Restoration Coalition CFLRP. “This is also one of the most effective ways to strengthen many of the natural resource dependent rural communities located in large federally managed landscapes.  This bill funds that critical work through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and will enhance our efforts.”  

“Sustainable Northwest commends Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for delivering on their promises to protect our natural resources, provide new economic opportunities, and safeguard Oregonians from natural disasters,” said Dylan Kruse, Director of Government Affairs and Program Strategy at Sustainable Northwest. “Proven and cost-effective programs like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program build common ground among diverse groups to restore the health of our national forests, reduce wildfire risk, and support good paying jobs in rural communities. As the West deals with increasingly extreme weather events, drought, and wildfires that threaten lives and homes, these resources could not have come at a more urgent time.”

“Fish and wildlife are at ground zero for the very real impacts of climate change. Land and Water Conservation Funding provides necessary protections for those special places and habitats that provide resiliency for our natural resources,” said Liz Hamilton, executive director of Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Senator Merkley’s work, along with Senator Wyden, helps protect the future of our industry.”

“The PILT payments are so critical to counties struggling with the loss of timber receipts PILT provide funding for law enforcement, pubic health, search and rescue, roads, and general government,” said Mark Bennett, Baker County Commissioner. “Additionally, the wildfire funding will allow forests to redirect funding back to the work of natural resource management, recreation, road maintenance, and deferred infrastructure repair.”

“Wildfire has changed, and Oregon needs to face this challenge,” said Matt Donegan, chair of the Oregon Wildfire Response Council.
“We need a comprehensive approach to wildfire that supports communities, reduces hazardous fuels, and provides our firefighters with the resources they need.  This bill wisely provides funding for all these initiatives, at a critical time for Oregon. Senators Merkley and Wyden continue to make wildfire a top priority, and these investments will bring real benefits here at home.”

“These federal dollars in stewarding our natural resources and frontline communities will provide greater opportunities to invest the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in special places such as the Table Rocks in Medford,” said Jim Desmond, State Director of The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. “These funds further forest and rangeland health restoration against escalating megafires that threaten livelihoods and vulnerable species such as the Greater Sage-grouse, while ensuring our water and climate resiliency is strengthened. We continue to appreciate the leadership of Senators Wyden and Merkley for protecting the Oregon we all love.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements of the appropriations bill that will impact Oregon include:

Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill includes funding increases for several programs that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires on public and private lands. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management received an additional $19 million and $5 million, respectively, for hazardous fuels reduction, bringing the total funding level to $648 million. In addition, the bill maintains funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program at $40 million. Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project.

Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the coming fire season, the bill includes $1.394 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior. Fiscal year 2020 is also the first year that the bipartisan “fire borrowing fix,” authored by Wyden and Merkley, comes into effect. This results in $2.25 billion in additional funds available for fire suppression and other priorities within the Interior bill.

Columbia River Basin Restoration Program: The EPA will receive $1.2 million to begin the planning process to implement the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program. Merkley created this program to provide grants to business owners, farmers, ranchers, local governments, and others in the Columbia Basin to clean up and reduce toxics for a cleaner, healthier basin.

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: The bill includes $7 million, a $3 million increase, to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish.

California Condors: The bill includes $2.5 million for Recovery Challenge Grants that will support the California Condor Recovery Program. The coalition effort, which includes the Oregon Zoo, is working to restore the California condor. To date, the condor population has reached more than 500 birds, 300 of which are living in the wild.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. Merkley and Wyden led the effort to secure this funding, which goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes. This is $35 million over the president’s request.

Clean Air and Water Funding: Trump’s budget proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency—which is responsible for reducing pollution and safeguarding public health—by 31 percent, so Merkley organized 37 of his colleagues in urging opposition to those cuts. The bill provides an additional $161 million for the EPA.

Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) received $73 million to leverage over $6.6 billion in investments. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained—critical for public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.

Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to thousands of tribal members in Oregon, received $6.041 billion, a $238 million increase. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education received an additional $51 million.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: The bill provides $465 million, enough to fund all pending LWCF projects in Oregon. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.

Earthquake Preparedness: The bill includes $170.8 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Natural Hazards programs, including $2 million for regional earthquake initiatives like ShakeAlert. The bill also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a real time instrumentation system for the Cascadia subduction zone that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event.

The next step for the bill is merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.