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Firefighter Group Critiques Oregon Governor's Draft Wildfire Management Plan

Image of forest on fire
skeeze via Pixabay

Governor Kate Brown’s Council on Wildfire Response held a meeting to discuss new wildfire management plans on Monday. Their draft proposal is already getting pushback from one firefighting group.

The council’s initial draft policy focuses on fire suppression. The document lays out priorities including increased investment in managing fuels in the forest and developing new land-use practices in the wildland-urban interface, where homes blend in with forest.

An introduction statement reads: “The focus of these recommendations is to maximize firefighting effectiveness on lands identified for wildfire suppression where the state of Oregon is directly responsible.”

But the document drew quick reaction on Monday from the group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology, also known as FUSEE.

“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.” 

The long-time policy of putting out wildfires whenever possible is widely blamed for interfering with fire's ecological role of clearing out excess forest fuels, making forests more prone to larger and more severe wildfires.

The Governor’s office did not respond to FUSEE’s analysis, but an official with the Oregon Department of Forestry emphasized that the suppression policy is just one piece of a three-part management plan. Additional committees are focused on wildfire mitigation, adaptation and recovery.

The Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response includes a broad coalition of members, from representatives of the timber industry to Native American tribes to environmental and political groups.

Once completed, the final policy recommendations will be sent to the Governor by the end of the year.

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.