MEDFORD, Ore. — Visiting an area of his constituency on Tuesday that is all-but surrounded by wildfires, Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River) made his case for why "sweeping improvements" to federal forest management should be included in the final form of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Those improvements sucessfully made it into the House of Representatives version of the bill, which passed the House in June. However, Walden's office says that the same changes have yet to appear in the Senate version of the bill. When the two bills are combined, the future of that aid becomes uncertain.
"The West is burning," Walden said in a letter sent on Tuesday to lawmakers who will be charged with reconciling the two bills. "Lives have been tragically lost. Homes and other property have been destroyed. Smoke is choking our skies, leaving residents of southern Oregon and elsewhere with the worst air quality in the nation. It does not have to be this way."
Congressman Walden claims that he continues to push for active forest management that would remove fuels and lessen the ongoing threat of fire and smoke for Oregonians.
"Communities across the West should not have to face the increasing threat of wildfire and choke on smoke each summer because of mismanagement of our public lands. We can do better," Walden said.
Walden cited John Bailey, a professor at Oregon State University, who testified last fall before the Energy and Commerce Committee that some areas of eastern Oregon have nearly 1,000 trees per acre on land that historically had 20 trees per acre. Walden argues that overstocked tree stands fuel the West's increasingly destructive fires.
In a meeting with Southern Oregon business owners on Thursday, Walden announced that the House Energy and Commerce Committee would hold a hearing to examine the air quality impacts of wildfire smoke—pointing again to his proposed improvements to forest management policy as a way to address the issue.
"Year after year, people in the West are suffering from the effects of catastrophic fire and the smoke that comes with it," said Walden in a video message. "People end up having to wear masks, stay inside, and events are canceled. It's time for Congress to act. As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I'm announcing that we are going to hold a hearing this fall to look at the health consequences of the smoke from these catastrophic wildfires."