Oregon Delegation Pushes Feds for More Relief Following Historic Wildfires, Droughts, Heat

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s entire congressional delegation today joined with Western colleagues in the House and Senate to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to secure more relief for farmers, ranchers, and other agriculture producers in the West affected by historic wildfires, droughts, and extreme heat.

In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, Suzanne Bonamici and Cliff Bentz, the Western lawmakers seek to open USDA relief programs up to more producers that have lost crops and livestock to the ongoing droughts, extreme heat, and wildfires.

In addition to droughts and wildfires, an extreme heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest in June with temperatures reaching as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In response, Secretary Vilsack issued several disaster designations, unlocking vital federal resources. However, many of the producers who suffered the greatest heat-related losses were either located in counties not covered by the drought designations, experienced losses not covered by drought assistance programs, or both.

Although the extent of damages relating to the extreme heat has yet to be fully determined, agricultural producers expect these impacts to be severe,” the lawmakers wrote. “We respectfully request USDA explore all potential flexibilities for additional relief within existing programs and identify other options to deliver federal relief to producers in our states so they have the resources to overcome the extreme drought and heat crisis.”

Reports across the Pacific Northwest and Western states indicate berry crops, tree fruits, grain and pulse crops, potatoes, hops, dairy products, forage crops, wine grapes, nursery crops, poultry, beef cattle, and general livestock experienced excessive heat impacts to yield and quality. Specific examples of the impact of these extreme weather events include:

  • Raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry farmers are reporting widespread losses of 20 to 80 percent of their crops and harm to the canes that will produce next year’s crop.
  • Cherry growers in the west have so far lost an estimated 20 percent of their overall crop.
  • Early modeling for shellfish suggests an estimated 1 billion sea creatures died along the Salish Sea’s coastline with reported mortality rates for certain shellfish farmers up to 90 percent.
  • For crops including apples and pears, the full extent of losses may not be known until harvest in the fall, or even later if damage manifests in storage.

The letter also encourages USDA to work with Congress to provide technical assistance as lawmakers craft additional authorities and appropriations to address the 2020 and 2021 seasons that include wildfire, drought, and excessive heat-related losses.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley in the Senate, others signing the letter include U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Hoeven (R-ND), James Risch (R-ID) and Jon Tester (MT). In addition to DeFazio, Blumenauer, Schrader, Bonamici and Bentz in the House, others signing the letter led by Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) include Reps. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Ami Bera (D-CA),  Julia Brownley (D-CA), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Liz Cheney (R-WY), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Jared Huffman (D-CA) Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Adam Smith (D-WA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

The full letter is here.