SALEM — Plagued by wildfires in recent years, Oregon will evaluate the effectiveness of its system to combat the blazes as fire seasons grow longer and more severe.
Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday she’s issued an executive order establishing the Oregon Wildfire Response Council. It is tasked with evaluating Oregon’s current response system to large fires and making recommendations in September on the future of Oregon’s wildfire response infrastructure.
“Oregon’s firefighting approach leads the nation in effectiveness,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “However, wildfire dynamics are changing and it is never too soon to evaluate the approach to wildfire education, prevention, suppression, attack, and community recovery.”
Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., of Grants Pass, said he’s encouraged by the governor’s actions.
“This is a great first step, but we need to take a serious look at how we manage our forests, including creating a long-term 100-year plan to prevent these massive fires from occurring in the first place,” Baertschiger said.
He has said the state and federal governments should re-evaluate policies that restricted harvesting of natural resources. Thinning forests helps protect them from wildfires.
The Oregon Department of Forestry uses a “militia” approach to fighting wildfires, drawing employees with specialized fire skills away from regular duties across the agency to fill out fire teams when needed.
“This has proved highly efficient,” forestry department spokeswoman Bobbi Doan said in an email. “However, over the past 10 years, climate conditions, increased development in and near forests, and other factors have made fire seasons longer, more severe and more complex.”
Brown appointed Matt Donegan as chairman of the new wildfire response council.
According to the nonprofit World Forestry Center, based in Portland, Donegan studied forestry and worked early in his career as a forester and investment analyst at Georgia-Pacific Corp., a pulp and paper company based in Atlanta. He was president of the now-disbanded State Board of Higher Education and was co-chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s Natural Resources Commission.