Billions: Oregon in line for wildfire, drought relief funding

October 5, 2021
Billions: Oregon in line for wildfire, drought relief funding

Oregon U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have announced the passage of critical legislation for wildfire and drought relief affecting Oregon and the West Coast.

The legislation includes billions of dollars in funding for wildfire disaster response, drought relief, public lands restoration, and other critical needs for Western states that have been hit hard by record wildfires and drought in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Both the US Senate and the US House have approved the legislation, which is tied into appropriations to fund the federal government. Wyden and Merkley said the wildfire and drought relief is expected to be signed by President Biden.

Merkley serves as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, one of the key subcommittees directing the funding.

“Passage of this legislation is a major victory for Oregon and the entire Western United States,” Merkley said. “Our communities should not be left on their own to struggle with the aftermath of historic disasters, and this funding will go a long way in helping rebuild now and prevent devastating wildfires in the future. I have been looking for every possible avenue to deliver this disaster relief, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to make sure Congress does right by Oregon as we deal with fires, smoke, and drought, and to make sure the U.S. does our part to tackle the root causes of our climate crisis.”

“Oregon and the West have been hit hard by the climate crisis, with temperatures soaring into the stratosphere, drought drying up our waterways and melting our mountain tops, and massive infernos devastating our communities,” Wyden said. “The funding is much-needed in helping to rebuild our communities and make them stronger against future disaster. I’m going to keep fighting tooth and nail to make sure Oregon has the resources it needs for its continued recovery and keeping Oregonians safe from the effects of the climate emergency with climate action.”

The two senators said the funding addresses many areas of critical need in helping Oregon communities recover, including:

$5 billion for Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR).

This funding is critical for recovery from the 2020 Labor Day fires and can be used for a variety of communities pressing needs hit hard by fires—including towns burned to the ground. The funds be used to help recover from the physical damage of fires, by rebuilding destroyed homes or repairing local infrastructure, and help in economic recovery through uses like workforce training or small business loans.

$200 million for the Bureau of Reclamation to assist with drought relief, including in the Klamath Basin and Central Oregon.

This funding comes as many areas of Oregon are experiencing yet another year of record drought, putting severe strain on farmers, ranchers, and entire communities.

$10 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide relief to agricultural producers impacted by drought, wildfire, smoke, and heat.

This will help family farms and ranches stay afloat after an extremely difficult two years, providing direct payments to cover qualified losses. Producers will be able to apply directly to the USDA to receive assistance.

Merkley said he also fought to include funding to help prevent future wildfire disasters and was able to secure $230 million for hazardous fuels reduction. Hazardous fuels reduction is critical to making forests more resilient to wildfire and preventing wildfires from spreading out of control, according to Merkley.

Merkley said he also used his position and his subcommittee chairmanship to ensure that wildfire recovery on public lands would not be left behind—supporting jobs in the outdoor economy, protecting drinking water supplies, and restoring habitat for salmon and other species.

These investments include:

• $1.545 billion for badly needed repair and recovery work, including debris removal, hazardous materials clean-up, and recovery and restoration of natural resources.

• This will include invasive species management, revegetation, critical habitat protection, burned area recovery, and watershed restoration, all of which must occur to restore these public lands to their previous state and to prevent further damage.

• Funding will also be used for the repair and rehabilitation of federal facilities, roads, bridges, trails, levees, and visitor areas.

These funds specifically include $1.185 billion for the Forest Service, $229.5 million for the National Park Service, $58 million for the Fish and Wildlife Service, and $26 million for the U.S. Geological Survey.

By The Chronicle

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