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Wyden Presses Federal Official On COVID-19 Safeguards As Wildfire Season Heats Up

Neal Herbert
U.S. Department of the Interior

Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has given a week’s notice to a federal forest official, to better explain how firefighters and rural communities will be safe from both COVID-19 and wildfires this season.

In a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearingtoday, Wyden pressed John Phipps, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service, to outline a safety plan.

That led to this exchange, starting with Phipps explaining the challenges of setting up a “robust” mobile testing capacity:

Credit Webcast, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Left: John Phipps, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry of the U.S. Forest Service; Right: Ron Wyden, Oregon Democratic Senator

Phipps: “You know, we’re concerned that could easily overwhelm local health facilities, so we have to do something as the interagency more-"

Wyden: "You need to tell us what that ‘something’ is, within a week. To just hear about exploring and doing something, and maybe we’ll look at this…it’s just not acceptable to the people who give us an election certificate.”

Wyden says Oregon forestry contacts tell him that there’s no coordination between them and federal health and emergency programs on the issue. For now, social distancing and enhanced protocols have been announced for fire camps.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.