Governor Kate Brown calls for bold action on climate crisis after receiving report
SALEM — Today, the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response released its report, predicting the cost of extended wildfire seasons will exceed tens of billions of dollars over the next 20 years. Studies suggest the comprehensive costs of wildfire are, on average, 11 times greater than the immediate costs of firefighting. With firefighting costs exceeding $500 million during high-fire seasons, comprehensive costs to Oregonians can total several billion dollars in a single year. The indirect costs of wildfires are high, too—according to another report, the health costs caused by wildfire smoke in Oregon in 2012 was over $2 billion.
Governor Brown thanked the Council members for their efforts. She created the Council through executive order in January, tasking them to compile comprehensive recommendations and a cohesive strategy to deal with the increasing difficulties posed by wildfires and smoke, tailored specifically to the challenges faced in Oregon.
“This report is a somber reminder that, left unchecked, warming temperatures across the globe will create a year-round risk of wildfires—with a price tag to match,” said Governor Brown. “Make no mistake: if we do not act to address the climate crisis immediately, we will quickly face the prospect of paying the exorbitant costs of wildfire response during a fire season that never ends.
“The devastation left in the wake of recent wildfires across the west is yet another alarming reminder of how this generation and the next will bear the costs of climate change—in lost dollars, homes, and lives. If we do not act now, Oregon’s grandchildren will be left to pay an appalling price.”
The Council report calls on federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector, to invest in strategies to reduce wildfire risk and protect communities from the impacts of wildfire. Over a century of land management practices that have allowed fuel for wildfires to accumulate far beyond historic conditions, combined with the climate impacts that have made fire seasons longer, drier, and hotter, create significant challenges for all Oregonians. Direct wildfire suppression costs for the Oregon Department of Forestry over the last seven years have grown sixfold. In 2018, combined state and federal costs for direct wildfire suppression alone totaled about $533 million in Oregon.
Left unaddressed, the risks to human life and property, as well as the costs of wildfire suppression in Oregon, will only continue to grow. According to the Council’s report, restoring 5.6 million acres of forest to mitigate wildfire risk requires an investment by the public and private sectors of $4 billion in the next 20 years, an average cost of $200 million annually. The Council’s report recommends the state begin addressing the issue immediately by allocating $145 million for wildfire response costs in the 2019-21 biennium.
The Council’s report also contains a range of recommendations for the Governor and Legislature to consider for Oregon’s future wildfire management based on national and global best practices in fire prevention, management, and suppression. The report addresses the broad and complex spectrum of wildfire impacts––offering short-term, mid-range, and long-term solutions to protect human health and communities.