Merkley introduces bill to reduce wildfire severity
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, introduced the Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act last week. The bill aims to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, along with the smoke and economic losses those fires cause.
The bill would create a $1 billion fund for the Forest Service to pay for wildfire reduction projects. It would also empower federal agencies to work with local communities to plan and prepare for wildfires and create a County Stewardship Fund that would benefit county governments. When forests are thinned under stewardship contracts, counties would receive 25 percent of the receipts.
“Across the country, our communities have been threatened by increasingly severe wildfires,” Merkley said in a written statement. “As we saw this summer in Oregon, even communities not directly impacted by flames were inundated with smoke. We need a dramatic increase in the resources that make our forests—and our timber economies—healthier.”
Merkley said the bill is needed since there’s a hotter and drier climate throughout much of the west, and because fire suppression continues to eat up the Forest Service’s budget.
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians CEO Michael Rondeau said catastrophic wildfires are threatening the tribe’s homelands and people.
“We are appreciative of the hard work Sen. Merkley is doing to restore the forests of our homelands,” Rondeau said.
State Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, said the act will benefit “fire stricken rural communities.”
“This act will greatly assist our communities, help align federal, state and local agency resources for community fire resiliency projects,” he said.