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Walden, Oregon colleagues press FS chief for wildfire prep details amid COVID-19

KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Reps. Greg Walden (OR-02), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03) and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) requested Thursday that U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen provide details on the agency’s efforts to prepare for the 2020 wildfire season amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

“The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, will create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges in the Pacific Northwest making the 2020 wildfire season potentially one of the most dangerous seasons to date,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Beyond the basic need to ensure the protection of communities, critical infrastructure, and firefighter safety, we recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is placing additional and unprecedented demands upon agencies that provide essential public services.”

In a letter, the lawmakers pushed for information on how the agency plans to address the challenges posed by the pandemic, including:

  • Coordination with federal, state and local health departments to aid communities impacted by smoke and wildfire;
  • Limiting exposure to and transmission of the virus to USFS employees, non-agency personnel, firefighters, and local residents; and,
  • Continuing to plan and implement forest management and hazardous fuels reduction plans to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

In addition, the lawmakers asked the agency to list the status of Exclusive Use contracts for Type 1 helicopters and fixed-wing air tanker contracts, both essential tools in aerial suppression efforts.  

For a PDF version of the letter, click here

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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