Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden preps proposals for wildfire preparedness and funding

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Dec. 23, 2023 5:49 p.m.

State lawmakers are preparing for the short legislative session in February

Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, listens to a constituent in Jacksonville at the town hall.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, listens to a constituent in Jacksonville at the town hall.

Roman Battaglia / JPR

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Oregon Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has been spearheading efforts to prevent wildfires across the state. During this upcoming session, Golden continues to look for a permanent source of funding for these programs.

This session, he’s interested in bringing back a tax on timber harvests that was discontinued in the ‘90s, and directing a portion of it to a wildfire prevention fund. Golden said he wants to put this forward as a ballot measure.

“I’m not putting it forward as a bill for us to pass and implement,” Golden said. “But I’d like Oregonians to speak to this.”

Major influence by the timber industry has pushed state lawmakers to give tax breaks to logging companies. Those tax funds have historically helped pay for basic services in rural communities like police and schools.

A similar effort to bring back this timber harvest tax was proposed in 2021, but that bill died in committee.

Related: Volunteers help sagebrush, wildflowers grow where southeastern Washington fires burned

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Lowering insurance premiums for firewise homeowners

Golden is also looking at way to get property owners in the state to work to reduce their own wildfire risk.

Instead of requiring changes to people’s homes or landscaping, Golden said he wants to encourage better preparedness for wildfires by working with insurance companies.

“The goal here is that insurance should be accessible and affordable for property owners who are doing everything reasonable to minimize risk on their properties,” said Golden.

Golden wants to expand the concept of firewise communities statewide, building on successes in Ashland and Jacksonville.

Related: With a record tax kicker on the horizon, an Oregon lawmaker sees a chance to bolster wildfire efforts

The program empowers neighborhoods to work together to reduce their wildfire risk. It connects them with fire professionals who can help design a more fire-safe environment.

Golden is looking at standardizing training for local fire departments to help them launch firewise communities in their area.

By working with insurance companies, he said the goal is to get premiums lowered if homeowners are taking steps to reduce their wildfire risk. He said by going this route, the state won’t have to force homeowners to make the changes.

Related: Washington state endures ‘catastrophic’ 2023 wildfire season with high ignitions, property loss

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