Last summer’s Eagle Creek Fire was a traumatic event for our Columbia River Gorge communities and many Oregonians and out-of-state tourists who come here to enjoy our natural treasures and support our local businesses. In Sisters, the Milli fire put residents at risk, forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes.
As I begin my first session as state representative, I’m committed to helping our communities recover. I’m also working on solutions to help reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires in the future.
Last summer fires across Oregon consumed nearly 700,000 acres, costing state, federal, local, tribal and private entities more than $340 million to suppress.
This doesn’t include the immeasurable losses in homes, tourism dollars, recreational amenities and natural resources. The fires also had a negative impact on our health care system through increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions as many Oregonians suffered from exposure to wildfire smoke.
Over 90 percent of the acres burned were under the firefighting jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, and the 2017 fire season is only a preview of what’s to come. That’s because a majority of Oregon’s forest land is owned by the federal government and much of it is classified as being at high risk of catastrophic wildfire.
Making matters worse, the Forest Service lacks the funding and personnel to reduce the risks of unnaturally-severe fire on lands they are charged with managing.
Many Oregon policymakers, academics, scientists and other stakeholders agree that action is needed to increase the pace, scale, and quality of forest restoration on federally owned lands. That’s why I’ve joined the “wildfire caucus,” a group of bicameral, bipartisan legislators who are working to make a difference for Oregon’s forests and the communities we represent.
For the upcoming February session, I am also introducing legislation to promote an important policy tool called “Good Neighbor Authority” (GNA) that allows the state to work proactively with the federal government to perform much-needed forest management activities on national forests within Oregon.
In 2016, Governor Kate Brown signed a GNA Master Agreement with the forest service, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Stemming from authorities in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, the agreement allows state and federal agencies to efficiently work across jurisdictions to meet shared land management objectives. Unfortunately, the state has not used the GNA to its full potential.
Other forested states are making the most of the GNA to reduce the risks of wildfire and support their rural economies. The state of Idaho, for example, is operating a GNA program that is treating more acres and creating good family-wage jobs in the woods.
Their program is truly “additive,” meaning their project outputs are above and beyond normally scheduled federal forest projects.
Even more impressive, Idaho’s GNA program is on track to be financially self-sustaining as timber revenues from forest projects are reinvested in the program.
Other states, including Montana and Wisconsin, are also actively working toward these objectives, and Oregon can, too.
My legislation directs the governor, and by extension the department of forestry, to prioritize the use of GNA projects with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining program; provide lottery funds to support the design, implementation and measurement of GNA projects; engage forest stakeholders in ODF’s federal forest working group to help coordinate GNA goals and activities; and direct the secretary of state to audit the GNA program and provide the Legislature with clear metrics on its activities, including moneys spent, jobs created, and timber sold.
There’s strong bipartisan agreement on the need to improve management of our forests, boost rural Oregon’s economy and protect Oregonians from the impacts of catastrophic wildfire.
During the February session I will be working with legislators across the state, and I will be offering my legislation as a solution to help increase the pace and scale of forest restoration in our state.
— Daniel Bonham resides in The Dalles and was chosen last fall by Republican leaders to fill the House District 59 vacancy left by the resignation of John Huffman, who took a job in the federal government. The district includes a portion of Wasco County.