Walden: Wildfire fix rule adopted by Forest Service

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Oregon Congressman Greg Walden,

Representative Greg Walden released a statement after the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced a new rule to update the agency’s special-use regulations to improve the reliability of the electrical grid and reduce the threat of wildfires. This rule builds off of a fix Walden helped secure in a 2018 package that provided the most sweeping reforms to forest management policy in more than a decade.

“I’ve said it once and I will say it again — our forests are overstocked and waiting to burn,” said Walden. “Unwieldy government regulations are standing in the way of common-sense risk reduction strategies, including hazard tree removal and improvements to the aging power grid. This new rule takes steps to tear down these burdensome regulations and builds on a fix to forest management I helped secure in a 2018 forest management package. With fire season—complicated by COVID—upon us, we must do everything in our power to prevent and aggressively extinguish deadly wildfires. I am grateful that the Forest Service and the Trump Administration are taking these needed steps to modernize our federal forest policy and protect our communities and environment from wildfire.”

Earlier this year, Walden spoke at an Energy and Commerce hearing about the need to improve the power grid in order to prevent wildfires. One of the witnesses at the hearing was Dave Markham of Central Electric Cooperative in Redmond, Oregon. Central Electric’s service territory is 56 percent on federal land. Dave Markham had an aged power pole that Central Electric attempted to move 20 feet in April of 2019 so that they could mitigate against the threat of wildfire. However, the Forest Service did not get around to that application until October of 2019. Unfortunately, that was too late to get in and do the work to move one pole before the snow.

“This is why we’ve got to reform the federal rules and laws that prevent the utilities from doing what they know needs to be done to protect our federal forests and the communities around them,” said Walden. “Delays like the ones Central Oregon Electric faced can have deadly consequences, especially when combined with our poorly managed federal forests. This new rule will help prevent roadblocks for utility companies that are trying to maintain our power grid.”

Earlier this week, Walden held a meeting on fire preparedness in southern Oregon. At the meeting, Walden spoke with officials from the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, USFS, and local elected officials. You can see coverage of that meeting here and here.

In May of 2019, Walden introduced  the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2019, which would make significant reforms to forest management policy and reduce the risk of wildfire in Oregon and nationwide.

Walden remains committed to getting forests back in to balance, reducing the risk of wildfire, helping forests recover faster after fires, and supporting forested communities. You can learn more about Walden’s additional efforts to improve forest management and decrease the risk of wildfires  here.