Oregon summer no longer signifies a simple seasonal break from grey skies, but instead a season of threatening and dangerous weather – wildfires. However, federal politics and budget wrangling are seemingly stunting the state’s ability to fight or suppress these fires.
In late May 2019, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Labor announced that Agriculture would be handing over responsibility for over a dozen Civilian Conservation Corps training centers to Labor, and that Labor would closing many of them and privatizing the rest. These centers provided extensive wildfire training and other conservation skills, having trained over 900 students in over 120,000 hours of firefighting over the past three years.
Last week, on May 29, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley introduced a bill in Congress to create a $1 billion fund for the U.S. Forest Service to assist local governments with fighting wildfires. Merkley cited the burning of 890,000 acres of Oregon wilderness last year, which created dangerous air quality conditions around the Portland area.
It is unclear how much support Merkley will receive for the idea, given that President Trump has expressed that he believes state forest management are responsible for blazes like the Camp Fire in Paradise, California last year, and the tendency of Merkley’s Republican colleagues to follow suit with Trump.
It is also unclear if Merkley expects anything to come of his proposal before Oregon begins feeling the effects of fire season.
In 2017, the U.S. has 71,500 fires nationwide, burning 10 million acres.
By Ian MacRonald