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Schrader Hosts USDA Secretary Vilsack, Under Secretary Bonnie, Oregon Agriculture and Forestry Leaders, Leads Discussions on Disaster Relief and Mitigation

Today, U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader (OR-05) was pleased to host U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack virtually and welcome U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie in person in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District to discuss new disaster relief funding for the state though the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) recently signed into law.

Secretary Vilsack joined Congressman Schrader remotely for a roundtable on wildfire mitigation, and Under Secretary Bonnie joined the Congressman in district for a separate discussion on drought relief and mitigation, as well as a tour of Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas, a family-owned plant nursery in the Willamette Valley impacted by the summer’s record-breaking heat and drought in the Pacific Northwest.

The roundtables were further attended by Oregon’s agricultural and forestry leaders in person, as well as Governor Kate Brown who joined the wildfire discussion virtually. The events underscore the significant interest and importance of disaster prevention in the state.

“It was an honor to bring Secretary Vilsack, Under Secretary Bonnie and Oregon’s agriculture and forestry leaders together in the 5th Congressional District to discuss what we are doing to fight back against extreme weather events, like wildfires and drought,” Rep. Schrader said. “A year ago, devastating wildfires tore through my district, destroying homes, businesses, farms, forests and iconic wilderness areas. More wildfires followed this summer, fueled by record heat and drought. This took a heavy toll on the district’s diverse crops and forest product industries. I championed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to devote significant resources to wildfire relief and mitigation efforts in Oregon, as well as to make record investments to fight the climate crisis fueling these disasters. I have frequently worked on these issues with my friend Secretary Vilsack since coming to Congress, often traveling around the district together during the Obama Administration. I am proud to join him and the entire USDA team again to expand upon our important work to protect Oregon communities. Together we are making the state stronger and more resilient for the future.”

“Wildfires are among the most catastrophic natural disasters that can occur, easily capable of destroying communities, property and lives, as well as natural treasures like our forests and the precious ecosystems they support. With the increasing impact of climate change, wildfires are becoming even more frequent and intense, posing a growing threat to communities in Oregon and across the West,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “I’m glad to have had the opportunity to join Representative Schrader, Governor Brown and Oregon agriculture and forestry leaders this morning to underscore how the resources unlocked with the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help build more resilient communities in the state, reduce the risk of wildfires and mitigate drought. As Co-Chair of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Wildfire Resilience and Drought Interagency Working Groups, I am committed to ensuring USDA does everything in its power to ensure our communities have the resources and support they need to respond to and recover from wildfires.”  

According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, the 2021 Fire Season was the fifth-longest on record in the state, burning more than 800,000 acres in 131 days. This came less than a year after wildfires devastated large regions of the 5th Congressional District. More than one million acres burned in 2020, destroying over 4,000 homes. In comparison, the total number of homes burned down by wildfires between 2015-2019 was 93. 

The IIJA makes major investments in wildfire mitigation and recovery, including:

  • $3.4 billion for Wildfire Risk Reduction to support a variety of wildland fire fighting efforts
  • $1.13 billion for Hazardous Fuels Reduction Programs 
  • $500 million for Burned Area Rehabilitation Programs to revitalize areas burned too badly to naturally recover
  • Portions of $5 billion for electrical grid improvements go towards fire-resistant technology 
  • $180 million in investments for NOAA’s activities to model and forecast fire weather activities and to increase their computing power for forecasts and droughts

The IIJA also makes further investments in drought relief and mitigation, including $2.2 billion targeted to fix aging water infrastructure in the West and address the need for drought contingency planning. The funding comes after Congressman Schrader voted to secure $10 billion in disaster relief money in the September 2021 Continuing Resolution for producers who experienced severe natural disasters, including drought.