By: Laura Gunderson | The Oregonian
August 23, 2016
Oregon’s Department of Forestry has been stretched too thin – both in its budget and staffing – over the past three severe fire seasons, according to an audit released Tuesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The practice of diverting money and full-time staff hours to fight large fires since 2012 hurt the agency’s other programs, including those aimed at preventing wildfires, protecting wildlife and managing state forests, the audit found.
The agency has fallen so behind on paperwork, the audit found, that managers have submitted costs for only two of 15 recent fires eligible for reimbursement from other federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency. To fill resulting budget holes, the agency borrowed from the state and has had to pay $1.5 million in interest payments.
A spokesman for the forestry department could not be reached for comment.
Overall, the audit shows the state Forestry Department is struggling with similar issues as its federal counterpart, the U.S. Forest Service, as both agencies face increasingly long and intense wildfire seasons.
Last year alone, 2,524 fires burned in Oregon