Pamplin Media Group – Forestry Department wants more money for fires

SILVERTON, Ore. — Oregon’s forestry department may ask legislators in the upcoming session for more money to deal with escalating wildfires.

State Forester Peter Daugherty told the Board of Forestry Wednesday that there is “big interest” in the Legislature in addressing fire policy, particularly when it comes to fires on Oregon’s federal land.

“They all want to do something, and I don’t know quite what it is they want to do,” Daugherty said. “But they have created a fire caucus, and there will be a fire policy discussion at their next legislative session.”

The timing may be right for the forestry department to make its case to legislators. While Oregon’s rural communities consistently see fire’s effects up close, the state’s major cities got a dose of smoke and ash from wildfires this summer.

The Eagle Creek Fire, which began in early September and is still burning on the scenic Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, caused particular distress. And this week, more than 20 people have perished as a result of wildfires in California wine country.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was also “very engaged” in fire issues, Daugherty said.

Brown has convened a council to hasten the economic recovery from wildfires that scorched communities from Mosier to Brookings.

Fire protection makes up a good share of the agency’s costs.

The Oregon Department of Forestry estimates that to-date, the 2017 fire season has cost it $38.9 million.

Recent fire seasons have also put a strain on employees — a problem that was documented by state auditors last year.

When fire season hits, all divisions of the department help handle the workload.

“We were in all-hands-on-deck mode from the (Aug. 21 total solar) eclipse until just recently,” Daugherty said.

Harsh fire seasons and low timber revenues have plagued the agency’s state forests division and, as of April, that division of the…

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