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2019 Resolution # 4 Supporting the Current Structure of Large Fire Funding in Oregon Further, Supporting Increased Active Management on Federal Lands in Oregon as a Means to Mitigate the Impacts of Catastrophic Wildfire in the State

WHEREAS, The State of Oregon has primary responsibility for the prevention and suppression of forest fires on 16 million acres of public and private forestland in the state.  This responsibility is administered and executed by the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) in cooperation with the private forest landowner and private forest operator communities.

WHEREAS, as a result of recognition of decades of funding inequity and contribution by the landowner and operator communities well above and beyond those born by the state’s general fund, in 2013 HB 2050-A (the Wildfire Protection Act) was passed with bi-partisan support to equalize large fire costs over time between the Public and Private landowners in the state of Oregon.  Capping Private landowner costs for large fires paid through the Oregon Forestland Protection Fund at $13.5 million per year ($10 million for direct large fire costs, $3 million for investment in severity resources that reduce exposure to costs from large fire, and $500 thousand to help pay for the state’s catastrophic fire insurance policy.)

WHEREAS, the Governor’s recommended budget fails to acknowledge the significant contributions both financially and in-kind of the land owner and operator communities, by proposing to shift funding to a dollar for dollar match for all large fire costs exceeding district deductibles and paid for by the Emergency Fire Cost Committee process, effectively removing the equity framework of HB 2050 the first year after it has achieved full balance.

WHEREAS, the State helps pay for a fire program because many forest fires are caused by the public. In fact, only 4% of fire starts on ODF protected lands in the 2018 fire season were from the timber owner/operator community.  And because public values (clean air and water, fish and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, renewable building products, etc) as well as private values (standing forests, aesthetics, and interface homes) are at risk from forest fires.

WHEREAS, due to a variety of circumstances fire suppression costs have escalated and the landowners’ share of those costs has increased disproportionately.  From 1992 to 2017 landowners have borne 60% of the expense to extinguish large fire on lands protected by the State.  Yet other factors have driven much of those costs, primarily increased fire risks to state protected lands associated with mismanagement of federal forests in Oregon.

WHEREAS, ODF and the United States Forest Service (USFS) protect approximately the same number of acres in the state of Oregon.  From 2008 to 2017 both the ODF and USFS experienced roughly the same number of fire starts.  Yet during that time period nearly 85% of the acres burned occurred in Federal Forests.  In 2017 that number was closer to 95% and in 2018 despite more fire starts on ODF protected lands than Federally protected lands, only 5% of the acres burned statewide occurred in private timberlands.

WHEREAS, lack of active forest management via increased fuel loads and inadequate infrastructure on Federal Lands is clearly the primary driver of acres burned in the State of Oregon year after year not ODF. This lack of management and subsequent influence on acres burned negatively impacts all of the public benefits described herein as well as human health, lost tourism opportunity, and the overall economic vitality of the state.

WHEREAS, in its 2019 Policy Option Package, ODF requested nearly $27 million from the General Fund to fund fire capacity. The governor did not include that request in the GRB, which is ironic because the Governor is proposing to expend $400 thousand on a blue ribbon panel to “acknowledge the challenge of large fire in Oregon”. ODF knows how to fight fire. They have a system that works, evidenced by the number of acres burned on their protected land, which this year was only 9 percent of the total acres burned in Oregon, nearly 50 percent of which was on BLM land protected by ODF. If Oregon wants to do something about fire, they should turn to their experts: ODF and the private landowner and operator communities of this State.

WHEREAS, the Governor’s recommended budget further burdens the landowners for the public benefit by shifting costs for the administration of the of the Forest Practices Act to reflect a combination of 50 percent General Fund and 50 percent Forest Products Harvest Tax, away from a current matrix of 60 percent GF/40 percent harvest tax.  Aside from the same inequities of public benefit vs. contribution found in the proposed fire funding shift, this would create a regulatory program wherein the regulated community is a full 50/50 partner in funding, the credibility of which would have to be suspect.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Oregon Logging Conference go on record in support of the statutorily defined existing large fire funding structure of HB 2050-A, and reject the Governors recommended budget proposal of a shift to 50/50 for all large fire costs as well as reject a shift in the funding matrix for the administration of the Private Forests program.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that none of what the Governor is doing will actually change the amount of acres that burn or the amount of smoke in the air, because the vast majority of that is coming from federal forests. All at a time when the Governor and the legislature are trying to figure out a way to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions on the backs of private businesses, the Oregon Logging Conference insists that if Oregon wants to do something about carbon emissions and wildfire, it’s got to come from changes in policy on federal forests to have any meaningful impact.