Wildfire report is in: Let's get started
Armed — finally — with the report of the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response, lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown are vowing to make the necessary investments in forest thinning and fire protection to reduce the threat of the smoke-filled summers this region has suffered in recent years.
This year’s wet spring, cool summer and wetter-than-normal September brought a welcome respite from the two previous fire seasons. But there is no guarantee we will get a repeat of those favorable conditions next year.
That’s why it is so important that state leaders waste no time.
The Governor’s Council report called for a $4 billion investment in forest thinning, prescribed burns and other measures designed to protect residential areas from the threat of wildfire. The 2020 Legislature will be holding a short session, having adopted a two-year budget this year, so lawmakers will be limited in how many resources they can marshal between now and next summer.
That’s why we were disappointed that Gov. Kate Brown’s response to the devastating fire seasons of 2017 and 2018 took up another fire season before the council could produce recommendations for action.
Now that the recommendations are in, lawmakers must act as quickly as possible given the realities of the budget cycle. Still, the state has resources it can tap, and federal help should be demanded and provided. After all, much of the state’s public forests are federal, and protecting that resource should be a priority for Congress as well as the state Legislature.
Brown has pledged to spend $100 million to $200 million over the next two years. That’s a start, but it’s not nearly enough.
A real concerted effort to address thinning projects around vulnerable communities and beef up firefighting capability at the same time should be a top priority in the 2020 and subsequent legislative sessions. Just look to California, still battling enormous wildfires that displaced millions of residents, to see the potential for what could happen here.
In reality, even the best efforts can’t prevent the kind of fires that result from the perfect combination of drought conditions, high winds and lightning or some other ignition source. But those efforts can improve the odds.