February 26, 2015

Wyden Secures Commitment from Forest Service Chief to Work on Oregon Priorities

Washington, D.C. – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today secured a commitment from U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell to provide much-needed funding to resource-dependent counties in Oregon, take the next step toward a solution in the Klamath River Basin and fix the broken funding system for fighting wildfires.

In a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today, Wyden pushed to make permanent the funding for the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) and Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) programs for counties in Oregon to fund schools, law enforcement, roads and other vital services.

He also called on Tidwell to help find a solution that will advance the Klamath River Basin agreements after the recent sale of the Mazama Tree Farm, which leaves the Klamath Tribe looking to identify new options for securing a land base.  

“The Klamath Tribe has, as I’ve indicated, continually worked in good faith and they have concerns about what’s happened,” Wyden said. “We’re going to have to find ways to deal with it and make sure the tribes are treated fairly.”

Tidwell said in the hearing that he and the agency are “more than committed to be able to find a solution” to the recent developments with the Klamath River Basin agreements. Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., reintroduced the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act on Jan. 8, 2015 and have committed to helping the tribe secure a land base and passing their bill this year to authorize the historic Klamath Basin agreements.

“This will help Oregon, this will help people who live in the basin, but I do think it has the potential to be a model for dealing with water issues around the country,” Wyden said.

Wyden also discussed his bipartisan bill to fix the way Congress funds the fight against wildfires, calling the current system, “essentially broken.” He noted that the administration has publicly supported his Wildfire Disaster Funding Act that he introduced with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. The bill would fund fighting the largest fires through a disaster account that is separate from the Forest Service’s annual operating budget.

Tidwell called the bill “a better business model,” and stressed the importance of moving forward with the Wyden-Crapo wildfire funding solution to fund the largest one percent of fires as natural disasters.

Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.