Merkley, Wyden Continue Transformative Federal Investments in Wildfire Prevention and Response in 2023 Funding Bill


As chair of key Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Merkley wrote the Interior bill included in Congress’s annual omnibus appropriations package to fund top Oregon priorities, including essential community-initiated projects across the state 

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that they have secured major investments for wildfire suppression and forest health in the 2023 funding bill that is expected to pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by President Biden this week. The new funding comes on top of record investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act earlier in the year.

The new legislation announced by the Senators also includes major investments to support Oregon communities, protect public lands and the environment, tackle climate chaos, and boost important programs for tribes through Congress’s fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package. As Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley wrote this portion of the package funding the Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency to ensure priorities for communities in every corner of Oregon were included.

“Every Oregonian has experienced in some way the growing threat that wildfires pose to our lives, our livelihoods, our health, and the way we live our lives. As Chair of the Senate Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations, I am in the driver’s seat to help deliver on Oregon’s priorities, and that’s why this bill continues the transformative federal commitment to reducing the threat of wildfires,” Merkley said. “The legislation I wrote, which is built on the input of Oregonians from across the state, also funds programs that modernize our water systems, fulfills our trust responsibilities to tribes, champions critical projects long-sought by our communities and so much more, all while creating good-paying jobs. These investments will play a key role in strengthening our state for generations to come.”

“From much-needed wildfire resources to funding for conservation and rebuilding critical water infrastructure, this bill runs the gamut in supporting the health and safety of Oregonians, protecting our treasured places, and boosting rural economies,” Wyden said. “I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish and look forward to seeing how these investments deliver for our state.”

Protecting Oregon Communities and Forests from Wildfires

The Interior bill portion of the funding package includes huge investments to support wildfire management, building on Senators Merkley and Wyden’s national leadership in ensuring communities throughout the West, especially in Oregon, have the funding and resources needed to take on and prevent massive wildfires and safeguard forest health.

Key elements in the Interior bill for wildfire prevention and mitigation include:

Wildland Firefighting: The total annual funding for wildfire suppression is $4.395 billion, of which $1.395 billion is provided in base suppression operations, $2.55 billion is provided in the Wildfire Suppression Operations Reserve Fund, and $450 million is provided in the disaster supplemental. This is $550 million (14 percent) more than fiscal year 2022. Since the enactment of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141), which authorized the Reserve Fund, the average annual cost of suppression has exceeded assumptions that informed the funding levels currently assumed in the Reserve Fund. Fiscal year 2021 was the most expensive year on record, with costs exceeding $4 billion; fiscal year 2022 costs were over $3.7 billion. As catastrophic fires grow in size and frequency, wildfire suppression funding must keep pace. The bill also continues the commitment to improve compensation for federal firefighters and convert seasonal positions to full-time.

Wildfire Smoke Mitigation: The bill provides $7 million, an increase of $3 million to the fiscal year 2022 level, for the EPA wildfire grant program Senator Merkley established last year to support local efforts to prepare for and protect against wildfire smoke hazards, for example by developing smoke mitigation and filtration plans for schools and community buildings. It also provides $3 million to support EPA wildfire smoke monitoring as well as smoke forecasting and communication tools like AirNow Fire and Smoke Map.

Hazardous Fuels: The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are provided a total of $454 million for hazardous fuels reduction, $40 million more than last year.

Forest Restoration: The bill builds on Senator Merkley’s and Wyden’s priorities for the Forest Service, including $32 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program, a $4 million increase. This funding will allow the work of five collaboratives across the state to continue: Northern Blues Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, and Rogue Basin Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project. The bill prioritizes addressing Sudden Oak Death, supporting the Oregon Private Forest Accord, research on wildfire’s effect on watersheds, expanding the course offerings at Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, partnering with tribes on forest restoration, and engaging smaller local organizations in restoration projects.

Protecting Our Air and Water

As climate chaos strains aging water infrastructure, Senators Merkley and Wyden are laser-focused on ensuring all Oregonians have access to clean and safe air and water for their lives and livelihoods—from dependable drinking water and sanitation, to a needed water supply for ranchers and growers, to protecting Oregon’s iconic ecosystems. The Interior portion of the omnibus makes major investments in water infrastructure modernization and environmental protection programs.

Key elements in the Interior bill for water modernization include:

Water Infrastructure: The bill includes $76 million in critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act. Senator Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well maintained to support 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 (WRDA). In total, the bill includes over $3.1 billion in loans and grants to support water infrastructure projects.

Environmental Protection Priorities: The bill bolsters foundational programs that protect communities from harmful pollution, providing an increase of $72 million for EPA enforcement and compliance efforts; an increase of $31 million for EPA clean air efforts; and an increase of $20 million for EPA’s toxic chemical program. The bill also includes $108 million for EPA’s environmental justice program, an $8 million increase over fiscal year 2022 and a $96 million increase over fiscal year 2021. The bill bolsters EPA programs that help clean up pollution in communities, providing $1.2 billion for Superfund cleanup efforts, $100 million for brownfields grants, and $100 million for diesel emission reduction grants. Finally, it includes more than $1 billion in funding to invest in state and tribal environmental protection programs, an increase of $61 million over the enacted level.

Supporting Tribal Communities

Senators Merkley and Wyden are deeply committed to ensuring Congress is upholding its trust and treaty responsibilities and providing fairness to Indian Country through the federal budget process.

Key elements in the Interior bill to support tribes in Oregon and across the country include:

Advanced Appropriations for the Indian Health Service: In an historic first, the bill provides an advance appropriation in fiscal year 2024 for the Indian Health Service (IHS). Advance appropriations will improve the reliability of health care services provided by IHS to more than 2.5 million Native Americans by ensuring predictable funding and protecting services from future lapses in funding due to government shutdowns and unpredictable budget years. The IHS operates health care facilities within Oregon in Warm Springs and Salem.

Tribal Programs and Services: The bill includes $10.8 billion in critical funding for Tribal communities across the country, and for the first time, $4 million to establish the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program, which will address water infrastructure challenges like those faced by the Warm Springs community. The bill also provides $7 million to expand tribal law enforcement programs to tribes that have historically been excluded from the programs, like The Klamath Tribes, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians. The bill bolsters tribal environmental programs, providing $16 million, a $3 million increase, for grants to support tribal air quality management programs and $75 million, an $8 million increase, for grants to support tribal environmental programs.

Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites: The bill provides $4.5 million for Columbia River In-Lieu Treaty Sites, including $1.3 million for fishing sites construction, to implement Senator Merkley’s Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.

Protecting Oregon’s Great Outdoors and Ecosystems

Senators Merkley and Wyden are focused on preserving and growing protections for some of Oregon’s most incredible landmarks, lands, waters, and species.

The Interior portion of the funding package includes huge investments to strengthen environmental protections, public lands, and Oregon’s recreational economy:

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: As a key part of Senator Merkley’s continued efforts with Senator Wyden toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, Merkley included $19.6 million for water monitoring efforts and conservation, including fish and wildlife habitat restoration, which is a $4 million increase compared to last year. This effort begin after Senator Merkley hosted the pivotal Sucker Summit in 2018.

Saline Lakes: The bill provides $1.75 million to expand a U.S. Geological Survey water monitoring assessment effort for saline lakes in the Great Basin, like Lake Abert in Oregon.

Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure: Within the Great American Outdoors Act Legacy Restoration Fund, the bill allocates, $9.5 million to fund maintenance at Yaquina Head, $7 million to replace the boiler at Timberline Lodge, $400,000 to replace the roof at the Siuslaw Visitor Center, and $10 million to address deferred maintenance at National Forests across Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. The bill also includes $61.6 million for BLM’s National Conservation Lands and directs BLM to prioritize management planning for Cascade-Siskiyou—this account has historically been underfunded and additional resources will be used for many projects, including recreation and management planning for new, expanded, and restored monuments.

Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA): The bill provides $5 million in new funding to implement FRIMA, for fish passage devices, fish screens and other related features to mitigate water diversion impacts on fisheries in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and California. FRIMA is an important tool to conserve and restore native anadromous and resident fish populations in the Pacific Northwest. Funding for the program lapsed in 2015 and, for the first time since, the funding is being restored.

Western Monarch Butterflies: The bill includes a directive for the Fish and Wildlife Service to spend not less than $7 million for conservation activities for western monarch butterflies and other pollinators. This funding will go to continue to support critical conservation actions identified at Senator Merkley’s Monarch Summit, as well as the Center for Pollinator Conservation.

Community-Initiated Projects

In addition to the funding allotments above, Merkley was in the driver’s seat to write into the bill $43 million for 22 conservation, water infrastructure, and other specific projects sought by communities across Oregon. Those funds and community-initiated projects, which he advocated for with Senator Ron Wyden, include:

  • $5 million for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs for Drinking Water Infrastructure 
  • $5 million for Talent Irrigation District for the Billings Siphon and Eastside Canal Project 
  • $3.5 million for the City of Burns for Water System Improvements
  • $3.5 million for Oregon State University for Elliott State Research Forest Monitoring Equipment 
  • $3 million for Owyhee Irrigation District for its Kingman Lateral Pipeline Project 
  • $3 million for the Tualatin Valley Water District for Willamette Water Supply System Construction Project, also supported by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici
  • $2.82 million for the City of Paisley for Water System Improvements
  • $2.5 million for the Ochoco Irrigation District for the McKay Creek Infrastructure Improvement Project
  • $2.2 million for the City of Carlton for its Sewer Collection Pipe Replacement Project
  • $2 million for the City of Grants Pass for its Water Treatment Plant Relocation Project
  • $2 million for Clackamas County for a Watershed Protection Project and Wastewater Facility Decommission, also supported by Rep. Blumenauer
  • $2 million for the City of Redmond for Water System Construction
  • $2 million for the Oregon Zoo for its Condor Restoration Project
  • $1.7 million for Morrow County and Umatilla County to address Drinking Water Contamination 
  • $1.6 million for the City of Falls City for its Water System Project
  • $1.2 million for the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
  • $1.25 million for the City of Aumsville for Wastewater Treatment Plant Project, also supported by Rep. Schrader
  • $1 million for the State of Oregon for the Opal Creek Wilderness and Scenic Recreation Area Act Implementation project
  • $700,000 for the Deschutes National Forest for Recreational Access
  • $602,000 for the City of Prairie City for Water Distribution System Improvements
  • $250,000 for the Harney Watershed Council for Harney Basin Water Resource Planning Support
  • $115,000 for Hood River Crag Rats for the Historic Cloud Cap Inn

“Once again, Senators Merkley and Wyden have stepped up to help the Warm Springs Tribe address its ongoing water crisis. This legislation would allow the Tribe to dramatically improve reliable access to clean, running water to thousands of people living on the Warm Springs Reservation,” said Tribal Council Chairman, Jonathan Smith.

“Talent Irrigation District would like to give our sincere thanks to Senators Merkley, Wyden and their staff for working diligently to have our Billings Siphon and Eastside Canal Project included in the bill,” said Mike Winters, Talent Irrigation District, President of the Board of Directors. “The project will replace aging infrastructure and the piping of the open canal will have a profound water savings due to reducing evaporation and leakage. This will be able to provide more water to our district patrons and provide water savings that will be directed toward enhancing streamflows in Bear Creek and ultimately the Rogue River.”

“The funding of this water project is remarkable. I would like to thank Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for considering the City of Burns for this critically needed water project,” said Jerry Woodfin, Mayor of Burns.

“Our existing water distribution pipelines are crumbling in some areas of the city due to much of it being approximately one hundred years old. Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden recognized the essential need to fund this water project. Both senators have proven what many already knew, that they genuinely care for the well-being of all Oregonians throughout this great state,” said Nancy Gardner, City Manager, City of Burns.

“This Interior Appropriations bill provides many important investments for forest research,” said Dr. Tom DeLuca, Dean of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. “OSU is particularly appreciative of the efforts of Senators Merkley and Wyden to secure funding for OSU to purchase and install forest monitoring equipment that supports the start-up of the Elliott State Research Forest. The Elliott State Research Forest has been established by the State of Oregon to serve as an enduring, publicly owned, world-class research forest to advance understanding related to forest health, climate resilience, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, water quality and quantity, and forest recreation.”

“The Owyhee Irrigation District is excited and deeply grateful for the support shown by Senators Merkley and Wyden for this project. Piping the first mile of the Kingman lateral will save money and stabilize the embankment, ensuring irrigation delivery to 6,500 acres,” said Clancy Flynn, General Manager, Owyhee Irrigation District.

“Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden understand small cities such as Carlton have limited financial resources to repair and replace failing infrastructure. Their support of our financial assistance request to help replace our 100-year-old failing sewer mainline, gives our families hope of relief from higher utility bills as well as a safer, more efficient, and stable infrastructure,” said Linda Watkins, Mayor of City of Carlton.

“The City of Grants Pass is particularly grateful to Senators Merkley and Wyden for putting our Water Treatment Plant Relocation Project forward on this bill. The Water Treatment Plant Relocation project builds resilience from flood and seismic events, ensuring the residents and businesses of our community are not without a fundamental life source: water. The funding will help mitigate recent service fee increases that have the greatest impact on the those in our community with the fewest financial resources. The funding from this bill will explicitly go to design and construction preparation activities including much needed geotechnical borings, pipeline route work and other design related tasks needed to ensure the success of the project,” said Jason Canady, Public Works Director, City of Grants Pass.

“City of Redmond proudly prioritizes safe and clean water as well as protecting its natural resources. Being awarded funding in the Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) portion of the Interior Appropriations bill enables us to accelerate needed investments in our water infrastructure and more efficiently meet the demands of our growing community,” said Mayor George Endicott, City of Redmond. “This federal support, spearheaded by Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley, ultimately eases the burden shouldered by water utility rate payers, and enhances needed water capacity for our community to grow and thrive well into the future.”

“The condor is a symbol of what the Pacific Northwest can be; a promise based on restoration, on tribal ownership and leadership, on taking action to undo centuries of environmental harm. As one of only four condor breeding facilities in the country, the Oregon Zoo has for 19 years played a critical role in saving this species from the brink of extinction. This Interior Appropriations bill invests in the future of this iconic bird and its eventual restoration to its historic Oregon range. Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden’s work means that the Oregon Zoo will continue to be a leader in condor conservation,” said Lynn Peterson, Oregon Metro Council President.

“This federal funding will help our region move beyond the short term nitrate emergency and focus on a long-term solution for safe drinking water. Senator Merkley’s support during the nitrate emergency has been so valuable. This new source of significant funding will allow Morrow and Umatilla Counties to develop and implement a standardized well testing program for domestic wells as well as develop a feasibility plan for permanent solutions such as public drinking water systems. The bi-county partnership will enhance other work within the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (LUBGWMA). We appreciate these joint County efforts and that of the Northeast Oregon Water Association and the Morrow and Umatilla County Planning Departments. We are very thankful that Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden supported this request and realized the critical need for this project,” said Melissa Lindsay, Morrow County Commissioner and Dan Dorran, Umatilla County Commissioner.

“This vital funding support will help Falls City replace many of the old Asbestos Cement water lines that impact our public safety every time they break. Due to their old and brittle condition, we run the risk of contamination to the public each time they fail. In addition, being able to improve the intake system at the source will greatly extend the life of the sand filters and the Water Treatment Plant overall. Finally, the ability to improve our billing system through wireless metering, will help our limited staff manage our community’s customer accounts more efficiently,” said AJ Foscoli City Manager, Falls City.

“These federal dollars are coming at a good time. The natural resources and people of the Santiam Canyon have suffered greatly in the wake of the 2020 wildfires. Using these funds to help build a trail that can be both enjoyed by locals and enhance recreational tourism in the region will continue to support this community’s economic recovery. We thank our federal delegation for investing these dollars in the people of the Canyon,” said Commissioner Kevin Cameron, Marion County.

“Prairie City will truly benefit from this funding, and I can’t thank Senators Merkley and Wyden enough for their support. Recent droughts and multiple forest fires have shown the importance of conserving water, the best way to conserve would be to eliminate wasting water by replacing the old pipes and meters,” said Jim Hamsher, Mayor of Prairie City.

“The Harney County Watershed Council works to improve watershed health for the benefit of our communities and the environment. Our Community Based Water Planning Collaborative is a partnership with the Oregon Water Resources Department and a range of stakeholders including agricultural producers and environmental groups. The Collaborative is working to create and implement a plan for our future water use and needs. Learning over the last four years that our basin is over-appropriated for groundwater use and facing multiple years of drought have created a need for this guiding document. We thank Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden for the funding that will enable us to complete our plan,” said Karen Moon, Coordinator, Harney County Watershed Council.