WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following several of the most catastrophic wildfire seasons on record, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley—who serves as the chairman of the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee—convened an appropriations hearing to make the case for substantial investments to promote forest resilience for climate change and catastrophic wildfire.
Testifying before the Subcommittee was U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
“Whether they have lost a loved one, business, or home to a wildfire, had to pack their most valuable belongings and anxiously awaited go orders, or were trapped inside by a thick blanket of hazardous smoke—nearly every family in the West has been impacted by wildfires in one way or another,” said Chairman Merkley. “It’s impossible to thrive if your community is being ravaged by these blazes. That’s why any plan to boost America’s infrastructure, create jobs, and protect lives and our economy must include responsible forest management strategies that can help us stay ahead of wildfire risks. Anything less will be a grave mistake that will leave communities scrambling in the face of an emergency, threaten American lives and livelihoods, and require more taxpayer-funded recovery projects.”
During the hearing, Chairman Merkley pressed Chief Christiansen to ensure that the fiscal year 2022 budget request invest heavily in reducing the backlog of hazardous fuels in forests across the country, including for the two million acres of backlogged projects located in Oregon. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Chairman Merkley doubled the funding authorization for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program (CFLR) and today encouraged Chief Christiansen to include full funding in the budget request. Oregon has more CFLR projects than any other state.
In addition to urging the U.S. Forest Service to tackle the dangerous backlog of wildfire prevention projects, Chairman Merkley emphasized the need to establish new pathways to finance the prevention, response to, and recovery from wildfires. To that end, the Senator stressed the need to preserve the “fire borrowing fix”—a critical provision that allows the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to access the funding they need to fight wildfires without having to take money away from other projects, including wildfire prevention. As Chairman, he will play a critical role in ensuring that the administration and Congress prioritize continuing this vital tool.
A video recording of the hearing is available here.