DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: The 2017 Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report
The 2017 Third Oregon Climate Assessment Report concludes: “Oregon is warming and the consequences are, and will be, notable.”
This summer, nearly two dozen forest fires are still burning in Oregon, and some 400,000 acres in the state, from the Columbia Gorge to the California border, have been consumed by forest fires. It is not the type of record that we want to celebrate. And, Oregon isn’t alone. Across the western states, more than seven million acres have burned. California, no stranger to fires already, has witnessed nearly 700,000 acres being consumed, more than twice the amount as last year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. What’s even more concerning, according to a 2013 Forest Service study, wildfires in the western states are expected to double by 2050.
And here’s where we blame Donald Trump.
Why? Because his ignorance about science combined with an inability to sensibly fund preventive measures.
Here’s some background that has led us to what is an increasingly vulnerable and dangerous time: For the past several years, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), along with Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho) have been trying to swashbuckle forward bills that would dramatically improve funding for wildland fire fighting by shifting the funding source to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency that manages other natural disasters—like hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and floods—and does so with much fewer restrictions and with access to deeper federal pockets. And, most keenly, would do so without pulling fire fighting funds from fire prevention funds.
(During that time, forest fires only have intensified in numbers and frequencies, as fire season is adding roughly one week on either end each year.)
Yet, although seemingly simple and sensible, lawmakers from the Pacific Northwest and California—the ones most eagerly interested in more stable funding to fight forest fires—have noted resistance to moving the funding source to FEMA from states in flood, tornado and hurricane regions, like Texas and Florida, which currently receive FEMA support for their natural disasters.
And with the recent hurricanes, which tend to threaten urban areas like Houston and Miami (as opposed to small towns adjacent to large national forests) and whose immediate drama receive more attention than chronic problems like forest fires which rage over weeks and months rather than hours and days (even take, for example, how quickly media attention left Houston, which will struggle for years with its cleanup.), it is unlikely that now is a good time to tap into FEMA for funding for forest fires.
It is unfortunate that forest fires have become a political hot potato. And it is even more frustrating because it clearly has bipartisan support.
Yet, neither President Trump, top officials at the Forest Service or FEMA, or elected officials from southern states, are yielding to support ideas to both fight and prevent forest fires, even proposing more cuts to forest fire prevention and fighting.
Perhaps stated best, Senator Maria Cantwell (Wash.) stated a recent budgetary hearing: “I can’t imagine a universe where anyone thinks that the status quo at the Forest Service is acceptable, particularly in regards to the fires that we’ve been facing,” she said. “This budget, which goes in the opposite direction and proposes cutting another $300 million from fire suppression, is not the direction we need to go.”
But there is a silver lining: Regional elected officials are putting aside differences in other issues for a unified front on this issue. Last week, the governors of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and California all declared states of emergency from wildfires, and all five congressional representatives from Oregon—DeFazio, Blumenauer, Walden, Bonamici, Schrader—sent a letter to House leaders requesting that emergency funding for wildland fire suppression be included in the Hurricane Harvey emergency supplemental appropriations bill. And again, last week, Sen. Wyden pushed the Trump administration to include wildfire funding fix in any request to Congress for disaster aid.
Ultimately, what is needed is not reactionary funding, but long-term solutions, and ones that don’t force western states to beg for disaster relief or to gut the U.S. Forest Service budget for fighting fires.
This seems like a no-brainer.