Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkle was recently joined by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, Suzanne Bonamici, and Cliff Bentz in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland calling for a renewed commitment to the Western Oregon Operating Plan.
Set to expire in 2024, WOOP serves as the agreement that governs fire response for the Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Forestry all over western Oregon.
“The checkerboard ownership pattern of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) forest lands in western Oregon is unique, and creates over 14,000 miles of jurisdictional boundary between federal, tribal, state, county and private timberlands,” wrote the lawmakers. “The complexity of managing fire situations in this area led to agreements to provide seamless protection by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) and non-profit Forest Protective Associations (FPA) dating back to at least 1914.
That arrangement has been a model of success and continues to this day, with the Western Oregon Operating Plan agreement between the State of Oregon and BLM.
“The current agreement expires in 2024, and BLM has indicated to ODF and FPAs that it wants to reduce the scope of the agreement and reduce the number of covered acres,” they continued. “This is of great concern to us because of the ongoing risk of catastrophic fires in our state.
In fact, many of the areas included in the agreement were recently designated high-risk ‘firesheds’ by this administration. Western Oregon Indian tribes have also expressed concern that BLM has embarked on this path without any government-to-government consultation about the impacts to tribal land of a different fire protection scheme.”
As the chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Merkley has been a leading voice in securing federal resources for wildfire management and ensured language directing the Bureau of Land Management to expand the level of protection covered through the Western Oregon Operating Plan was included in this fiscal year’s federal spending bill.
The letter comes ahead of a planned May hearing in which Merkley will invite Secretary Haaland to testify before his subcommittee.