Oregon Brings the Heat

It was 102 degrees in Medford on June 1, 2021. Let me say that again just in case it didn’t fully sink in: Medford suffered temperatures as high as 102 degrees in spring, making it harder for firefighters battling Southern Oregon’s first fires of the year.

Now, I usually like Oregon to be in the record-setting business, but not for hot, dry weather in April and May. Having a 100-degree day while still in springtime should ring alarm bells for Oregonians everywhere.

It was not so long ago that Oregon’s fire season was only a few weeks in August and September. The events of Memorial Day weekend only serve as a reminder that the human-caused climate crisis has increased the frequency of fires that threaten lives, businesses and entire communities.

Over the past week, I met with forest managers and first responders in Southern Oregon, Central Oregon, and the Willamette Valley to hear their forecasts for the 2021 fire year.

The bottom line is it’s long past time for nickel-and-dime solutions to billion-dollar problems caused by wildfire, such as smoke-related health issues, damage to local economies and life-and-death threats to Oregonians.

Our state has a backlog of roughly 2.5 million acres of federal land in dire need of wildfire prevention. And Oregonians don’t want 2.5 million excuses about why there aren’t more forest health improvements and prescribed fire treatments completed on these 2.5 million acres.

They just want these fire risks reduced as soon as possible.

The science is clear: controlled burns clear out dead trees and vegetation as well as break down and return nutrients to the soil, creating healthier and more resilient forests. Prescribed burns or fuel reduction treatments can head off wildfires before they have the chance to burn out of control, devastating lives and livelihoods. 

I saw this firsthand in Sisters, where a prescribed burn near the Whychus Creek provided key support in suppressing the 2017 Milli fire before it could overtake Sisters.

To that end, I recently introduced legislation to increase the pace and scale of prescribed fires. The National Prescribed Fire Act has the support of conservation groups as well as leading timber industry voices because its passage would mean healthier forests for timber harvest, forest ecosystems and outdoor recreation alike.

It’s going to take all hands on deck to prevent wildfire in the coming dry seasons, so that’s why I have introduced bills to harden our power grid by burying power lines, generate thousands of good-paying jobs for young people reducing fire-causing fuels in the woods, and meet emissions goals by investing in the clean energy sector.  

Smart, science-based forestry policy is smart climate policy. If we treat hazardous, fire-starting fuels now in the cooler, wetter months, we can prevent future fires before they have a chance to spark.