Oregon National Forests Receive USDA Funding to Combat Wildfires

Benton County residents undoubtedly remember waking up to a red morning on September 7, 2020. The historically strong winds from the east had blown smoke from the multiple wildfires burning at the time Beachie Creek, Holiday Farm, Lionshead into the Willamette Valley, blanketing Corvallis, Salem, and Eugene in thick smoke for days. In attempts to be proactive, the USDA has recognized prime areas of concern in Oregon to apply conservation techniques that may help fight fires before they start. 

Over $5 million has been allocated to organizations in Oregon in hopes of preventing wildfires in two additional National Forests this year. $2 million will be available to protecting the Fremont-Winema National Forest in Lake County, and $3.25 million will go towards protecting Deschutes National Forest in Jefferson and Deschutes counties.  

According to an article in the Statesman Journal, the 2020 wildfire season was the most devastating in recent history, with over 4,000 homes destroyed, one million acres burned, and roughly $354 million spent on fire fighting. Dozens of fires were ignited by both anthropogenic and natural sources, and due to increasingly dry weather and record wind speeds, were more ferocious than firefighting personal are accustomed to.  

Through a program called the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, the USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awards funding to numerous three-year projects that aim to restore and defend landscapes from wildfire, protecting communities, wildlife, and drinking water. The Partnership program works with a network of co-collaborators in the states of the chosen projects that span geopolitical boundaries to meet conservation goals. 

Only 70 miles east of Corvallis, the Deschutes National Forest will be receiving a variety of treatments to avoid uncontrollable wildfires, including removal of invasive vegetation, brush management, prescribed burns, and additional training of local firefighting crews. The funding also aims to improve hydrologic connection of watersheds in the Forest, which will promote survival of endangered fish and amphibians as well as protect drinking water for surrounding towns. State and local partners for this project include the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, Deschutes Land Trust, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 

The funding granted to the Fremont-Winema National Forest project will include some of the same preventative measures – managing downed timber, invasive plant removal, and prescribed burns, but additionally aims to engage private landowners and agricultural landscapes in conservation methods to achieve large-scale wildfire prevention. 

Hopefully this funding from the USDA and NRCS to the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership will decrease the number and severity of wildfires in 2021 and in the future, as continued climate change is anticipated to result in drier summers and alternations to wind and precipitation patterns in Oregon.  

By: Lauren Zatkos