Wyden, Merkley Ask for Updated Wildfire Impact Study in Oregon

WASHINGTON— Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today asked Travel Oregon to update its 2017 wildfire study to capture the additional impact of this year’s wildfires on the normally robust outdoor recreation and tourism economy in Oregon.

The senators said the agency’s previous research on the impact of the 2017 wildfires was very helpful and that an update incorporating this year’s wildfires affecting the Rogue and Deschutes Rivers would help raise awareness of the more recent wildfires on the local recreation and tourism economy. The updated Travel Oregon research, they said, also would help in any appeals for federal disaster assistance.

The Oregon senators noted that recent fires in Josephine and Jackson counties may mean parts of the Rogue River are closed to the public for safety reasons. Wyden and Merkley wrote such closures would hurt fishers, boaters, outfitters, rafters and guides on the river, which attracts more than 128,000 annual visitors and contributes more than $30 million a year to the local economy.

“Luckily, no lives or structures have been lost, yet the threats of the Taylor Creek fire, and the adjacent Gardner fire, have led the agencies to issue evacuation notices to more than 1,000 people,” the senators wrote. “Furthermore, this is the second year in a row that the air quality in southern Oregon has ranked among the worst in the nation, which will undoubtedly have a negative long-term impact on tourism.” 

In Central Oregon, the Deschutes River – which generates nearly $60 million a year for the local recreation and tourism industry — also has experienced multiple wildfires that hurt recreation and livelihoods.

“At a time when fishers, rafters, and guides should be utilizing the recreation opportunities in Oregon, dangerous fire and unhealthy smoke choke off opportunities on our rivers and for the surrounding business owners,” the senators wrote.

The senators’ letter also raised concerns about unhealthy air quality hurting outdoor businesses in southern Oregon such the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Britt Festival in Jacksonville, the Jackson County Fair in Central Point, and Country Crossings Music Festival.

The 2017 Travel Oregon study found that Oregon wildfires cost an estimated $51.1 million in visitor spending and an additional $16 million in lost earnings for employees and working proprietors. Smoke from the 2017 wildfires in Oregon was particularly widespread, causing a 65 percent increase in unhealthy air quality readings across the state.

Full text of today’s letter is here. A web version of this release is here.