U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) expressed concern that a number of local fire departments may no longer be able to serve as partners to the federal government in fighting wildfires.
The three Oregon lawmakers’ letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt follows the recent determination that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service will allow existing cooperative agreements between local fire departments and the federal government to remain in place for the 2019 wildfire season. However, the lawmakers cite concerns from a number of local fire departments that the Forest Service and the BLM will not enter into new cooperative agreements or renew recently expired cooperative agreements, which will prevent a number of highly qualified fire professionals from helping to battle inevitable fires.
“We have not heard any compelling reason why your agencies cannot renew these longstanding agreements through this fire season. While we understand there are workarounds that would require very seasoned professionals with years of experience to work at very low wages, these solutions would not provide funds for fire departments to “backfill” positions and therefore will not meet the needs of our local departments,” Walden, Wyden, and Merkley wrote.
“We would appreciate your best efforts to address concerns of state and local fire departments, which are ready to help and interested in a fair and equitable long-term solution. These professionals, with long-term agreements that are in flux for this fire season, should have the opportunity to contribute and help battle the inevitable fires.”
A copy of the letter is available here.