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Feds boost fire spending as researchers predict more fires

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(The Center Square) – Oregon is receiving more than $38 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bolster its wildfire resilience efforts under the U.S. Forest Service’s Wildfire Crisis Strategy.

The state will use the money to mitigate its wildfire threats and protect infrastructure and natural resources.

“In Oregon and across the West, our homes, businesses, and natural treasures are facing increasingly severe wildfires as climate chaos endangers our communities,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) said in a statement. “Virtually every Oregonian has encountered, to some degree, the escalating danger posed by wildfires to our well-being, economies, and ecosystems. With extreme wildfire seasons showing no signs of ending, there is an urgent need to significantly boost investments aimed at fortifying our forests, timber industries, and communities – enhancing their health and resilience.”

Funding from the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will go to 21 designated priority landscapes across the West, including three regions in Oregon: Central Oregon, Klamath River Basin, and Mount Hood landscapes.

“The investment will allow national forests—in collaboration with Tribes, communities, and other partners—to build local capacity for projects to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health to protect communities, infrastructure, water quality, and adjacent landowners,” a release said.

Of the funding, $18.2 million will go to Central Oregon, $15.47 million to the Klamath River Basin, and $4.97 million to the Mount Hood Forest Health and Fire-Resistant Communities.

Plus, $100 million will be allocated from a new program created by the USFS—the Collaborative Wildfire Risk Reduction Program. It will “expand work in high-risk wildfire areas outside the 21 priority landscapes, including those in Oregon,” the release said.

The funding comes as a recent study published by JGR Biogeosciences said that forests in the coolest and wettest portions of the western Pacific Northwest face the greatest increase in burn probability, fire size, and number of blazes as the climate gets hotter and dryer.

The study, led by Oregon State University scientist Alex Dye, ran wildfire simulations over 23 million acres of forest land west of the Cascade Range crest in Oregon and Washington, according to a press release from the school.

The study’s simulations showed that over the 30-year period starting in 2035, Washington’s North Cascades region, the Olympic Mountains, the Puget Lowlands, and the western Oregon Cascades may see at least twice as much fire activity as it had in the previous 30 years.

These increased fires will “put pressure” on drinking water, timber resources, biodiversity, and carbon stocks, according to the release.

“The moist, highly productive forests of the Northwest don’t get fire as often as other parts of the West, like California or eastern Oregon,” Dye said in the release. “But fire does naturally occur in the PNW ‘Westside’ as we call it – the fire regimes are actually quite complex in this region. It can be challenging to assess fire probability in an environment where there isn’t a lot of empirical information about the fire history to build models.”

The Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center and the Pacific Northwest Research Station Westside Fire Initiative funded Dye’s research.

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