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Wyden presses Forest Service, Interior Dept. for detailed plans on firefighter shortage, wildfire prevention

KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has again asked the U.S. Forest Service and Department of the Interior for detailed plans on how the agencies will use the recent increases he secured in funding for wildfire prevention and to further address wildland firefighter staffing shortages.

Wyden's letters to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday followed the agencies' responses to his initial request on these matters.

"[Increased] fire risk in Oregon this month indicates that more information is required to ensure Oregonians remain safe and prepared. Oregonians want detailed plans on how the [Forest Service and Interior] will use the recent increases in funding for wildfire prevention and to further address wildland firefighter staffing shortages," Wyden wrote.

As Oregonians experience more common late summer wind gusts and top-alert red flag outlooks as a result of the climate crisis, Wyden raised concerns that initial attack crews are starting to be hard to find as seasonal crews in the southwest are slotted to end. Specifically, there are currently eight hotshot crews in the Southwest region that are listed as unavailable due to being "out of season," meaning their time-limited positions have expired.

"These crews would be of huge benefit as Oregon continues to battle potentially catastrophic fires. How are you planning on addressing these essential crew shortages while the region sees these on-the-ground changes?" Wyden asked the agencies.

While Oregon has received Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding to address critical fuels treatments for approximately 200,000 acres of USFS and DOI lands, Wyden also asked both agencies for specifics on how they plan on addressing the remaining high risk acreage across the state.

To see the full list of questions asked by Senator Wyden, a copy of Wyden's letter to Secretary Haaland can be found here and a copy of Wyden's letter to Secretary Vilsack can be found here.

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