The 2019 legislative session will be remembered more for what it didn't accomplish than for what it did, thanks in large measure to the two walkouts staged by Senate Republicans to block legislation they didn't like. That makes it all the more frustrating that a relatively tiny request by southern Oregon lawmakers to address the issue of wildfires fell through the cracks of the dysfunctional session, missing an opportunity to tackle the problem right away.
As a result, this region must wait through another fire season and maybe longer before anything close to real action can take place.
Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, who sits on Gov. Kate Brown's Council on Wildfire Response, spearheaded a proposal to allocate $6.8 million to thin forests around cities in Jackson County. Despite bipartisan support from Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, the proposal did not pass.
We were critical of the governor's decision to appoint yet another committee to address the very immediate threat of wildfires and the smoke they bring to our region. We remain disappointed that more is not being done this year, not next year or the one after that — although Marsh's presence on that council was a bright spot, and she did her best to convince up-state legislators of the urgent need for more funding.
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But Wallan said lawmakers from the northern portions of the state didn't seem to understand the need for more resources to fight fires and to help prevent future conflagrations. Let us hope we don't have to suffer through another smoke-filled summer to get their attention.
The Governor's Council is expected to produce recommendations this fall — far too late to have any effect on this summer's fire season. It's possible that a 12.73% increase in the Oregon Department of Forestry's budget could provide some additional money for fire suppression, but only after the governor's council makes recommendations — "later this year," according to an ODF spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, southern Oregonians hold their collective breath and feel grateful for somewhat cooler-than-normal temperatures so far this season. If that holds, and lightning stays away, we could get through the summer unscathed. But that would be sheer luck, not the result of leadership from the governor or assistance from the Legislature.
-- (Medford) Mail Tribune