Congressman Greg Walden: Use stimulus to employ wildfire workers

Put Oregonians back to work to reduce catastrophic wildfire. Funds available in stimulus should be used to hire commercial contractors to tackle Condition Class II and III lands – those lands most at risk of producing catastrophic wildfire

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) today told the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that they should use taxpayer funds in the economic stimulus package to hire commercial contractors to treat forest lands most susceptible to catastrophic wildfire and further target the resources to where the highest unemployment rates are in rural Oregon.

Walden convened a videoconference today with USFS Region 6 Supervisor Mary Wagner and BLM State Director Ed Shepard, who between them oversee all USFS and BLM forests in Oregon and Washington, to find out how they plan to spend their portion of the $250 million in the economic stimulus for hazardous fuels reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation and hazard mitigation.

“I voted against the so-called stimulus because it never occurred to me in over 21 years of running a small business that you could borrow your way into prosperity,” Walden said. “But now that the money has been borrowed, it’s my job to make sure the Second District of Oregon gets its unfair share. We should use those funds to hire commercial contractors to get into the forest and do the environmentally responsible work necessary on the most at-risk lands to reduce the catastrophic fire we see every summer.”

At the meeting today, Walden laid out the following principles for Supervisor Wagner and Director Shepard to follow:

1. Prioritize hazardous fuels reduction projects in Condition Class II and III lands — the areas where catastrophic wildfire is most likely to originate.

2. Use commercial contractors to put Oregonians back to work in the woods.

3. Use the authorities available in the strongly bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act to do the work in an environmentally responsible way, but also in a way that saves time and precious funding.

4. Undertake essential forest health projects in areas most desperate for work in the woods. According to the regional economist for the Oregon Employment Division, the loss of 200 jobs from mill closures in eastern Oregon during 2007 had an economic impact comparable to the loss of 26,400 jobs in the Portland metropolitan area.

Walden is in the middle of a nine-county, 36-meeting, 1,600-mile trip through the Second District this week. He is in Medford and Grants Pass today. Thursday he will be in Pendleton, La Grande, and Milton-Freewater, and Friday he will visit Bend, Madras, and Prineville.

Representative Greg Walden represents the Oregon’s Second Congressional District, which is comprised of 20 counties in eastern, southern, and central Oregon. He is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.


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