Wyden’s ‘Conservation Corps’ targets wildfire season


Battling wildfires during a pandemic offers unique challenges

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The pandemic has affected literally every aspect of life as we know it. And as the summer weather arrives, so does wildfire season. But battling wildfires during a pandemic creates other, different challenges.

That’s why Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a bill to address the specific concerns facing those who fight the fires and those who live in the areas most greatly affected.

The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act would provide about $38 billion in investments in public health, wildfire prevention and jobs training, Wyden told KOIN 6 News on Wednesday.

“It’s all about helping our state be healthier and help create jobs. For example we have a backlog with respect to hazardous fuels of 2.5 million acres. That’s essentially a magnet for big fires. You have a big fire and all of a sudden you have an inferno on your hands if you don’t go in and clean out those hazardous fuels,” the Oregon Democrat said.

The bill would also focus on watershed restoration which would help get cleaner water for drinking and communities, he said. It would also get help for the guides and outfitters in the areas most directly hit.

“A lot of them are really hurting and a lot of the existing programs don’t really help them. So if we can make a dent in those 2.5 million acres of hazardous fuels that needs to be adressed, watershed restoration and helping the guides and outfitters, that I think would be a good addition to the next coronavirus legislative package.”

The name of the bill harkens back to the days of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps — and Wyden said that’s not a coincidence.

“You’re darn right. I sat at this desk where I have been literally every day for weeks and weeks on end and I remembered how Timberline came about, Crater Lake, some of our wonderful, kind of special places I call the Oregon Way that have been really part of our DNA now,” he said. “So you bet, the 21st Century Conservation Corps is exactly in line with what I was thinking about.”

Wyden said he doesn’t think all parts of his bill will make it through but enough to make a difference in this wildfire season.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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