Forestry department stretched too thin

BEND — The time, effort and money spent fighting wildfires has strained workers and harmed other programs at the Oregon Department of Forestry, according to an Oregon state audit.

The wildfire workload has increased and department staffing has not kept pace, according to the audit, forcing more employees to do fire-related assignments and work longer hours. The audit says the forestry department is fighting more severe fires with about the same number of employees it had 20 years ago, reported The Bend Bulletin.

The department provides fire protection on about 16 million acres of private and public forestland in Oregon. It also handles land and recreation management, among other things, for the state's forests.

Of the department's approximately $330 million 2015-17 budget, $126 million goes toward fire protection. State forests get $94 million, private forests get $40 million and $70 million goes toward agency administration.

The Oregon secretary of state released the audit Tuesday. The report urged the department to do more long-term planning and reflection on its preventative measures.

"As fire seasons lengthen and intensify, ODF needs long-term workforce planning to address its firefighting and fire-prevention missions, while still maintaining broader forest management responsibilities," Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said in a statement.

It recommended that the department collect and analyze data on the fire season's impacts on programs and workers, among other steps.

In response to the audit, the department said it supports and agrees with the audit's findings and detailed ways officials plan to address the recommendations.

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