Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today sought answers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) following concerns that new agency policy is derailing vital and time-sensitive conservation and forest management programs in Oregon.
The USDA has thousands of cooperative agreements in Oregon and across the United States with a vast array of partners to provide the agency with the ability to more effectively conduct essential projects, including collaborative forest restoration, long-term forest stewardship, wildfire prevention, and more. In a letter today to Secretary Sonny Perdue, Wyden and Merkley expressed concerns that the agency’s recent decision to implement new reporting and approval requirements for these agreements will effectively freeze the implementation of ongoing projects.
“While the desire to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely is commendable, we worry that this additional and extraordinary review of routine agreements will have serious effects on field operations,” the senators wrote. “With busy and potentially dangerous summer months quickly approaching, it is imperative the USDA and their partners begin seasonal programming, including necessary wildfire prevention efforts.”
Wyden and Merkley highlighted on-the-ground uncertainty for agency partners who are operating in good faith and continuing to fund cooperative agreements despite outstanding questions about the new agency policy.
“If partners can no longer fund these cooperative agreements while awaiting approval, or if no reimbursement is made after the review has been finalized, it could devastate these crucial partnerships, ultimately costing USDA in terms of money and capacity, and exacerbating risks to already fragile public lands,” the senators wrote.
To address these concerns, Wyden and Merkley requested the USDA clarify the new review process, definitively state whether partners who are currently funding cooperative agreements in good faith will be reimbursed, and highlight how the USDA plans to ensure programs continue to be implemented in an effective and timely manner.
A full copy of the letter can be found here.
A web version of the release can be found here.