Oregon governor wants $200 million annually to prevent wildfires

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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown asked the Legislature this week to approve spending $200 million annually over the next 20 years for fire prevention, mitigation and suppression.

Brown threw out the figure while testifying in favor of Senate Bill 1536, saying that is how much the state's wildfire council estimates it will cost annually to adequately deal with the wildfire threat.

The bill that was being heard in the Senate Committee on Wildfire Reduction and Recovery is one of several aimed at reducing risk from wildfires. Others include Senate Bills 1514, 1515, and 1516. Many of the bills are based on recommendations in a report from the Governor's Council on Wildfire Response released last year.

The combined efforts of the bills would be to fund 15 projects aimed at reducing wildfire danger. They would increase funding for the Oregon Department of Forestry to bolster efforts to clear brush and dead wood, require electric companies to craft wildfire prevention plans and help communities create more "defensible space" around homes.

"Doing nothing is not an option. Studies suggest the comprehensive costs of wildfire are 11 times greater than the immediate costs of firefighting," Brown said. "That is why I am asking you, the legislature, to invest $200 million this session on wildfire prevention, mitigation and suppression — don't worry, not all in this bill."

In addition to avoiding costly damages, Brown said investing in restoration treatments and forest health will create jobs in the rural parts of the state.

"This is a rare moment in which we are well-positioned to get ahead of the problem, but that won't last for long," Brown said. "We have a real chance to make a difference in the 2020 fire season."

The state doesn't plan to let what Brown called its "federal partners" off the hook.

Brown recently met with the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and the chief of the Forest Service, who she said expressed a strong interest in increasing their investment in Oregon.

"I expect at least a one-to-one match from our federal partners in response to any investment from Oregon," she said.

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Natural disasters State budgets Kate Brown Oregon State of Oregon