Oregon Fire Council Misfires

Eagle Creek Fire by Trip Jennings

This week, Governor Kate Brown’s Council on Wildfire Response unveiled their final proposed management plan for the state. An earlier draft of the plan attracted headlines for its eye-popping cost - $4 billion - but little attention has been paid to the substance of the report and whether the recommendations will work.

The short answer is: probably not.

The idea behind the plan was to avert the kind of wildfire tragedies like the one that occurred in Paradise, California. Unfortunately, while the report gives some mention to things that could effectively mitigate wildfire disasters - things like emergency preparedness, identifying vulnerable populations, fire-ready building codes, and limiting development in fire-prone areas - the meat of the report’s recommendations center squarely on fire suppression and increased logging.

The Council took pains to emphasize that the $4 billion dollars would be used exclusively for fuels reduction and nothing else. But money spent on logging and fuels reduction, which experts contend are some of the “least important factors” in protecting homes and communities, would be far better utilized retrofitting houses with fire-resistant features. 

The final version of the Fire Council’s report shows little improvement on the draft version of the plan released in September, which earned a swift rebuttal from Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology:

“They do seem to be heading toward an all-suppression kind of approach to dealing with wildfire,” said Rich Fairbanks, a former firefighter and current board member of FUSEE.

“Things have really changed because of the suppression policy that we’ve had since 1911,” he said. “We can’t just be putting out every fire.”

In an analysis released Monday, FUSEE members wrote that the recommendations “represent a vain attempt to further bolster a fire exclusion paradigm that is rapidly becoming obsolete.” 

It appears that the Council’s final recommendations may have been predetermined. Over the objections of conservation groups, scientists, and even some members of the Council itself, increased logging and fire suppression remained the group’s primary focus, reinforcing the very problems it was charged to address. In fact, one of the Council’s major recommendations is not just increased logging, but new taxpayer subsidies lavished on the very corporate interests that continue to create “out-of-whack” ecosystems.

The Council’s chair, Matthew Donegan, was the co-founder of Forest Capital Partners and built his wealth on industrial forestry. Other members came directly from the logging industry. It comes as little surprise that the efforts of the Council marched straight toward the very industry that enriched Donegan, other members of the Council, as well as some of Oregon’s most active political donors, and that more taxpayer subsidies to that industry are recommended.

Photo Credits
Eagle Creek Fire by Trip Jennings