Three members of Oregon’s Congressional Delegation are on the move to get federal assistance for farmers in Sherman and Wasco counties who have sustained damage from recent wildfires.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has written a letter asking U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to allow emergency grazing of livestock on Conservation Reserve Program ground.
He also asks that farmers be given flexibility to plant cover crops for soil stabilization without being placed in the continuous production category with the Risk Management Agency and having their crop insurance adversely affected.
In his Aug 2 letter, Walden thanks Perdue for his early July visit to the Martin family farm near Rufus and his expressed interest in making sure food producers have the tools they need to succeed.
Perdue was the first secretary of agriculture to visit the region.
“Sadly, the very wheat farm we visited in Sherman County, and many of their neighbors, lost some or all of their crops to fire,” stated Walden in his letter.
“Many of the wheat farms in this area affected by fire are also livestock producers and have lost pastures to the fire. With available CRP ground nearby that was unaffected by the fire ... ask you to use your authority to allow emergency grazing to take place.”
Walden told Perdue House version of the Farm Bill included several provisions to further improve forest management and reduce the threat of wildfire.
“Your leadership would be welcome in ensuring we keep these important provisions in the final 2018 Farm Bill,” he wrote.
These provisions include expediting authority for cleanup efforts following a fire, which include replanting trees and reducing hazardous fuels with forest restoration projects and removing diseased and bug-infested trees to reduce hazardous fuels.
Perdue also received a request Thursday from Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, to have Sherman, Wasco and Jefferson counties declared as agricultural disaster areas in the wake of wildfires.
They urged Perdue to support Oergon Gov. Kate Brown’s request to unlock federal funds for emergency loans, insurance relief and other assistance.
“As you are well aware, having worked with us over the years on wildfire funding, the effects of fires can be devastating on these rural landscapes and deliver a significant economic blow to rural agricultural producers and businesses,” the senators wrote in their Aug. 2 joint letter.
“The fully tally of losses related to these fires, including the Substation and Long Hollow Fires in Wasco and Sherman counties that have burned more than 100,000 acres, has yet to be compiled.”
In addition, Merkley and Wyden joined Brown in asking Perdue to make some of the $12 billion promised American farmers in trade war relief also available to Oregon food producers also devastated by recent wildfires.
Also, on Aug. 2, Wyden and Merkley announced that investments for wildfire suppression and recovery activities had been included in the U.S. Department of Interior Appropriations Bill that had been approved as part of the 2019 funding package.
“Once again Oregon is suffering through a terrible wildfire season,” Merkley said. “We must invest in both recovery and prevention efforts to save our forests, our communities and our farms, ranches and other businesses from devastating losses.”
In that bill, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management received an additional $5 million and $8 millin, respectively, for hazardous fuels reduction in the bill, bringing the total funding level to $623 million.
Federal agencies spent $2.9 billion on wildfire suppression in 2017, the most expensive year on records, so the bill seeks to meet funding needs for 2018 by includes $2.4 billion for agencies to minimize “fire borrowing,” which is taking funds from other needs to cover suppression costs.
Walden met Aug. 2 with business owners and community leaders in Medford to announce that the Energy and Commerce Committee he chairs would be holding a hearing this fall to examine the air quality impacts of wildfire smoke.
He said Southern Oregon was experiencing the worst air quality in the nation due to wildfires in the state and in California. He said there needed to be a discussion about what types of changes to federal forest policy will help prevent unnaturally catastrophic wildfires.