EUGENE, Ore. -- After last year’s unprecedented wildfires, officials met Friday at the City Club to discuss forest restoration and fire prevention efforts.
Officials from the Willamette National Forest said more acres were burned last year than in the last 20 years combined. The U.S. Forest Service spent more than $2 billion fighting fires which is the most expensive year on record. They spent 57 percent of their overall budget, which is up from just 15 percent in 1995.
Since fire suppression consumed a larger portion of their budget, officials said they had less money to spend elsewhere. This means they could not spend as much funding recreation, taking care of park areas and maintaining trails. Some of their major thinning and fuels reduction projects were delayed and law enforcement was also impacted. They have just four officers for more than two million acres of land.
Tracy Beck, the supervisor of Willamette National Forest, said some of that funding was recently restored, but the impact of the fires are lasting.
“We still have to go out and address the endangered trees along a lot of the roads that the fires burned along because we want to have safe access for the public, and us to get to trailheads,” Beck said. “Then we have to take care of the endangered trees along trailheads too. So we still have a lot of work to do.”
Randy Green, a retired fire management officer from the Forest Service who worked on the frontlines of the Eagle Creek fire last year, said their resources were also stretched thin, both with staffing and equipment.
Green said in the future it would be helpful to have resources from the Air National Guard and military available faster. He said despite being short on resources he felt they did a good job fighting the fire. Looking forward, he said, he recommends the FireWise Program that provides information on how to protect property.
“From the Thomas fires to the fires in Eastern Oregon, where the homes that didn't use FireWise ended up just a foundation. It burnt them down,” Green said. “Whereas other homes right next to [them] along with municipalities who were protecting them, they were easier to protect."
Green said it is important to take care of fuel and be proactive with other preventative measures before the fire season begins.