Wyden, Merkley: More than $5 Million to Central and Eastern Oregon for Wildfire Prevention Projects

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced that three Oregon counties will benefit from a combined more than $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for collaborations with landowners to reduce wildfire risk, improve water quality and restore forest ecosystems.

“Oregonians know that a raging wildfire doesn’t recognize the difference between public and private lands,” said Wyden, who fought for wildfire prevention funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Lawthe 2023 funding package, and has introduced key pieces of legislation to protect grasslands and water resources from fire. “This federal investment in Oregon recognizes that we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to preparing our shared lands in the colder, wetter months rather than scrambling to fight a wildfire that ignites on the hottest, driest, windiest days in the backyards of rural Oregon. Agencies and landowners working together on preventative measures, like targeted controlled fires to burn off hazardous fuels, is crucial to protecting Oregon’s land, communities and economy.”

“Every Oregonian has experienced in some way the growing threat that wildfire poses to our livelihoods, health, and the Oregon way of life. Thanks to the efforts of collaborative groups around the state, work is happening across private and public lands to reduce the risk of wildfire in our communities,” said Merkley, who as Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee authored the spending provisions of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Fiscal Year 2023 spending packages related to the U.S. Forest Service and is leading the charge to expand the popular Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) program. “This funding will provide partners with resources needed to help keep our homes, businesses, and communities safer. As our fire seasons continue to grow longer and fiercer, I’ll keep fighting to make sure Oregon gets the support it needs to protect our communities and businesses.”

Permanently funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership enables the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to collaborate with agricultural producers and forest landowners on projects that reduce wildfire risk, improve water quality, restore forest ecosystems, and combat climate change. Through the new three-year projects, landowners will work with local USDA experts and partners to apply targeted forestry management practices on their land, such as thinning, hazardous fuel treatments, fire breaks, and other systems to meet unique forestry challenges in their area.

The Oregon-funded projects are as follows:

North Wasco$3,119,600 to restore and promote resiliency in fire-adapted ecosystems of the east slopes of the Oregon Cascades, including thinning, weeds treatments, road improvement and vegetation management, mastication and prescribed burning will be utilized to reduce fuel loadings and thin overstocked stands, with the goal of returning the landscape closer to its historic range of variability.

Partners: City of The Dalles, Office of State Fire Marshal, Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon Department of State Lands, Oregon State University Extension, and Wasco County Forest Collaborative

Southern Blues$1,974,231 for strategic fuel treatments to reduce fire risk to local communities while improving forest, rangeland, and overall watershed resiliency to proactively address changes in climate and precipitation patterns. This project will also engage in outreach and education to landowners about their property to promote a more fire adapted landscape.

Partners: Bayer Corporation, Blue Mountain Forest Partners, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, Grant County Community Action Team, Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, Jerome Natural Resource Consulting, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Oregon Department of Forestry, and Oregon State University Extension

“Local, state, and federal partners in Grant County put a lot of hard, thoughtful work into the Southern Blues’ Joint Chiefs proposal. We are excited by its selection which represents a smart federal investment in public and private working landscapes that will improve landscape health, mitigate wildfire risk, and provide socioeconomic benefits for area communities now and into the future,” said Mark Webb, Executive Director of Blue Mountains Forest Partners.

“NRCS along with USFS and our local partners are excited The Southern Blues Restoration Project was successfully funded through the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership program. This is a great opportunity to make landscape scale impacts in Grant County that can make a difference for not only watershed resiliency but can also provide positive impacts for the local communities in the years to come,” said Aaron Roth, District Conservationist for the National Resources Conservation Service.

“The need for cross-boundary wildfire risk reduction work as part of our Wildfire Crisis Strategy is more urgent than ever. These projects, and the $930 million of investments being made across 21 landscapes in highest-risk firesheds in the western U.S., speak to our commitment to improve forest health and resiliency across the nation’s forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “We have long moved beyond wildfire seasons to fire years, with an annual average of 8 million acres burned since 2015; more than 10 million acres burned in three of those years. The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership promotes cross-boundary work needed to increase the scale of our wildfire risk reduction efforts to protect people and communities, critical infrastructure, water supplies, and ecosystems from extreme wildfire.”

A web version of this release is here.