Congressional Update Dear Neighbor,As temperatures rise and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease with each vaccine, many of us are looking forward to traveling again this summer. But, if you are planning to head outdoors to enjoy Oregon's many public lands and forests, please be mindful of wildfire dangers.The deadly 2020 wildfire season in Oregon was one of the most destructive in state history. Over one million acres of our forestlands burned, destroying more than 4,000 homes and businesses. Our district was hit especially hard. Whole towns were destroyed, with the fires taking an especially steep economic toll on our rural communities that are dependent on logging, as equipment and retirement opportunities were destroyed. Many of our friends and neighbors are still recovering nearly a year later after losing everything.
As temperatures rise and COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ease with each vaccine, many of us are looking forward to traveling again this summer. But, if you are planning to head outdoors to enjoy Oregon's many public lands and forests, please be mindful of wildfire dangers.
The deadly 2020 wildfire season in Oregon was one of the most destructive in state history. Over one million acres of our forestlands burned, destroying more than 4,000 homes and businesses. Our district was hit especially hard. Whole towns were destroyed, with the fires taking an especially steep economic toll on our rural communities that are dependent on logging, as equipment and retirement opportunities were destroyed. Many of our friends and neighbors are still recovering nearly a year later after losing everything.
The fact is, wildfires are getting worse each year, and that trend will continue unless we take bold action both at home and in our nation's capital.
Tackling Wildfires in Congress
Since coming to Congress, I’ve made it a top priority to address the longstanding and unresolved issues surrounding the health of our federal forests. This has included leading on legislation and successfully getting some real reforms passed into law to improve forest management: changing our budget to end the cycle of “fire borrowing” and providing utility companies the authority to remove hazardous trees near transmission lines. These policies have helped prevent wildfires and create great family wage jobs in our rural communities, but much more has to be done to meet the moment.
Oregon and other Western states fight fires every year, incurring great personal and financial costs, and they are only getting larger and more dangerous. These wildfires also result in huge carbon increases in the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.
In recent weeks I've introduced bills with my colleagues aimed at increasing wildfire preparedness and prevention:
The Disaster Safe Power Grid Act - This bill would help electric utilities fund efforts to reduce the risks of blackouts caused by wildfires and extreme weather events like the dangerous ice storms that hit Oregon's 5th Congressional District this year, through power system upgrades, as well as installing fire and disaster safety equipment and managing vegetation. This bill is especially crucial for smaller, rural electric co-ops which need this grant funding to meet the challenges of our changing climate and aging infrastructure.
The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 - This bipartisan bill will help us begin to tackle the current hazardous fuels backlog to reduce the number and severity of wildfires by implementing consistent policy around proactive fuel treatment measures like thinning trees, removing undergrowth and prescribed burns.
I also joined my fellow colleagues on the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus in sending a letter to Appropriators in Congress, urging them to include robust funding to programs in the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that will support improved wildfire preparedness, mitigation and response across the United States.
These investments must also ensure the Wildfire Disaster Fund I championed receives full financial support like other disaster funds, so we can put real money into active forest management, so when wildfires do happen, they do not grow out of control. The funds would also elevate our firefighting efforts, including advancing our attack on fires near rural communities, so public lands will be protected and preserved for future generations.
Wildfire Prevention: Local Resources
I also want to share some important resources in the state to help keep you informed of the latest threat levels, rules and tips to stay safe during wildfire season:
The House has been very active passing legislation on a number of issues that would have a direct impact on vulnerable Oregonians in the 5th Congressional District. These are just a few of the bills I've supported in May to protect your rights and support mental health:
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act - This bipartisan bill would ensure that pregnant workers are not forced out of their jobs unnecessarily or denied reasonable accommodations that would allow them to keep working and supporting their families.
The STANDUP Act - Aimed at preventing teenage suicide, the second leading cause of death for young Americans, as well as preventing school shootings. The bill would fund student suicide awareness and prevention training, along with implementing school-based threat assessment team policies. These teams are especially good at addressing complex issues, including bullying, racial disparities, aggression and anxiety about violence.
The PAWS Veterans Therapy Act - The bill seeks to address the high-suicide rate among our veterans by creating a pilot program within the VA, where the department partners with nonprofits to pair veterans and service dogs together through work-therapy programs. The project would teach veterans how to train dogs to meet their specific needs, like waking them up if they’re having a nightmare. After the program is completed, the veterans may adopt their dogs to provide continued therapy. As a veterinarian, I’ve seen how animals can intuitively help people struggling with physical difficulties and mental health, and this bill would channel that special connection toward helping our veterans in incredible ways.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7 support.
Virtual Town Hall
I recently held a virtual town hall, where hundreds of constituents around the district joined in to ask thoughtful questions about what's been going on at home and in D.C. Topics we covered included infrastructure, the COVID-19 pandemic, the homeless crisis, local road projects and health care. Please watch my introduction from the event, where I discuss the latest developments:
These events are a great way to connect and find out ways that my office can be of service to you. Be on the lookout for more virtual town halls in the future.
The most rewarding part of being your Congressman is traveling around the district, speaking with constituents and making sure your voices are heard in our nation's capital. Check out a few of my recent visits below.
Small businesses drive Oregon’s economy and we need to make sure they are getting all the help they need. I visited several small businesses in downtown Woodburn to hear how federal assistance, like the Paycheck Protection Program and COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loans are keeping them afloat.
I visited Salem Free Clinics, which offers preventative and specialty care services to community members who are not covered by insurance. Since its founding in 2005, SFC has grown exponentially and now offers 6,000 patient appointments each year.
Volunteers from Drakes Crossing Fire District worked tirelessly to stop the Beachie Creek Fire that devastated so much of the surrounding area last year. I stopped by to see how the district is doing and hear their concerns as they prepare for another fire season.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about what I've been doing to serve Oregon's 5th Congressional District. It is an honor to represent you in Congress.