REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
SB 1536 Wildfire Testimony
February 3, 2020
Good afternoon Chair Golden, members of the committee. For the record, I’m Governor Kate Brown. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to testify in support of SB 1536. I hope you pass this bill along with the committee bills you’ll be hearing this session.
Almost every fire season since I became Governor has been a historic fire season. We’ve seen unprecedented damage to our homes, livelihoods, and Oregon’s natural environment.
From the fire at Canyon Creek in 2015, to the Eagle Creek fire in 2017, and the Klondike fire of 2018, we know that Oregon stands to lose a lot in the face of uncontrolled wildfire.
Last year, we got a bye with only one major fire at Milepost 97. We got lucky, but it’s not likely to happen again. We must be prepared for more voracious wildfire seasons to come.
I am really pleased to see the Senate convene a special committee specifically to address wildfire response — bringing together diverse, bipartisan stakeholders to put our state on a better path to address wildfires.
It was in this same spirit that I convened the Wildfire Council in 2019. Members brought a wealth of experience from forestry and fire-fighting—and business, and agriculture, and government.
I know many of them are here today and you will be hearing from them throughout this session. I have so appreciated all of their time and expertise.
The Council has come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations to prepare Oregon communities to address not only wildfire suppression, but also the mitigation of fuels, and prevention of uncontrolled burns.
Make no mistake, Oregon is a national model for wildfire response. In 2018, our coordinated approach put out 93 percent of fires before they grew above 10 acres.
And by 2019 we were able to use a forward-looking infrared camera to spot fires before they sparked out of control.
But fire still threatens communities, smoke compromises our health, and our local economies suffer.
We know that fire seasons are only going to be more and more challenging.
Our mission is to keep Oregonians safe and our landscape healthy. But we can’t do that if we are running plays from last century’s playbook.
We must ensure that we employ national best practices by investing in new tools, technology, and people power.
We can manage resilient landscapes through the thinning of trees, more frequent prescribed burns, and the removal of fuels for wildfire.
It’s an expansion of work we’re already doing. A great example is in Central Oregon with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project.
Their work in West Bend has had incredible success restoring forest conditions and wildlife diversity, as well as creating a more fire-adaptive wildland-urban interface. So much so that they were recognized in 2017 by the National Forest Service with the prestigious Chief’s Honor Award.
As some of you may know, I consistently meet with our federal partners, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior as well as the chief of the Forest Service.
They have expressed a strong interest in increasing their investment in Oregon, and I expect at least a one-to-one match from our federal partners in response to any investment from Oregon.
The wildfire council estimates it will cost around 200 million dollars annually over the next twenty years for adequate prevention, mitigation, and suppression.
Doing nothing is not an option. Studies suggest the comprehensive costs of wildfire are 11 times greater than the immediate costs of firefighting.
And by investing in restoration treatments and forest health, Oregon may avoid costly damages while simultaneously creating jobs in rural parts of the state.
That is why I am asking you, the legislature, to invest 200 million dollars this session in wildfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression — don’t worry, not all in this bill.
This is a rare moment in which we are well-positioned to get ahead of the problem. But that won’t last for long.
We have a real chance to make a difference in the 2020 fire season.
Let’s get this done. Thank you for the opportunity, I’m happy to answer any questions.