Oregon Gov. Kate Brown wants the state to get serious about dealing with and preventing wildfire, and what she has in mind is a first step down a long road. Lawmakers will take up her proposed legislation when the short, even-year session begins Feb. 3. It’s a good beginning.
The measure, currently Legislative Concept 83, is what’s called an omnibus bill. It doesn’t deal just with making fire less destructive, or suppressing fire, or adapting to the reality of wildfire. Rather, it’s a broad measure that includes efforts in all three areas. Among them:
• To reduce risk, the measure sets a target of treating 300,000 acres of state land each year to reduce fuel load, both by thinning and controlled burns. Too, It would require electric utilities to have approved fire protection plans that both ensured that power lines were not the cause of fire and that service would not be interrupted.
• To make wildfires less destructive, a statewide plan would be used to create rules for defensible space safety zones around structures. Too, it would require that all Oregon land be within a fire district, a change that would bring about 1 million acres into the districts and the firefighting and protection they provide.
• To adapt, the measure would require the state to do such things as treat all wildfire as an emergency and bring the Office of Emergency Management on board to help Oregonians survive and recover from it. The measure also would improve building codes to make buildings more fire resistant and provide funds for improved smoke filtration systems in both public and private.
This wouldn’t come cheap. One estimate puts it at more than $30 billion, more than lawmakers are likely to have available anytime soon.
That said, it’s a good start. As fires in California and Australia have demonstrated in the last couple of years, wildfires can do untold damage, killing plants, animals and people without discrimination. Oregon cannot afford to sit around and wait until it has both a perfect plan and a boatload of money. The governor’s bill, in other words, may not do enough, but it’s certainly a good start on a critical problem.