Holy Solar Eclipse! If only we had a wildfire funding bill!
06.16.2017

The recent death of 88-year-old Adam West, the actor who popularized the comic book superhero Batman on 1960s television, brought to mind his sidekick Robin’s penchant for exclaiming the obvious. But I had no idea he uttered 367 “Holy…” exclamations during the three-year TV series.

One of his outcries was “Holy Conflagration!” which is what we in Oregon could see this Aug. 21 when a total solar eclipse passes over the state during the height of fire season. According to state officials, Oregon can expect anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million visitors during the days leading up to and after the eclipse. That’s going to magnify the risk of human-caused wildfire, the leading cause – at 83 percent – of all fires in Oregon in 2016.

Keep Oregon Green, the statewide organization that works to increase awareness of Oregon’s wildfire risk, will be working overtime to educate the public about wildfire prevention. Recognizing the extreme risk to the state’s forest resources, the OFRI board of directors recently voted to send $10,000 to KOG to help with its public education efforts.

Education is great, and we need it, but what would really help is if Congress passed a wildfire disaster funding bill. It’s a well-known fact that the increasing cost of fire suppression is deteriorating the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior’s ability to more effectively manage the nation’s forests for fire resiliency. Since 1995, for example, the Forest Service’s fire suppression budget has increased from about 15 percent to more than 50 percent of the agency’s overall budget. And when those levels don’t meet fire suppression needs, the agencies must “borrow” funds to fight wildfires from other budgets, including those earmarked for forest restoration and fire prevention.

Enter the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017, reintroduced June 8 by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.

“Simply put, the current system is broken,” Schrader says. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon-producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, saving  taxpayers money, and providing jobs in our struggling rural communities.”

Passage of Schrader’s bill in this Congress won’t help mitigate the increased wildfire risk when thousands of visitors come to Oregon in 2017, but Holy Solar Eclipse! I hope it passes before the next one passes over North America – in 2024!

For the forest,

Paul Barnum

Executive Director

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