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Serving: West

Vilsack to focus on drought, wildfires in West visit

USDA Forest Service via Getty Images GettyImages-1233981753.jpg
The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon may burn until late fall or early winter, officials say.
The ag secretary will tour an Oregon farm and meet with Gov. Kate Brown after announcing $15 million for the Klamath Basin.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is visiting Oregon today, Aug. 3, with plans to meet with Gov. Kate Brown and other officials to discuss the federal government's response to Western drought and wildfires.

Vilsack and Brown will tour a farm in Salem that has been impacted by drought. Later this morning, they will attend a private briefing on the current status of wildfire response efforts and the ongoing efforts to strengthen wildfire prevention and preparedness, according to the USDA.

The pair plan to meet with reporters after the tour and meeting, the agency announced.

The USDA on Aug. 2 announced it is investing $15 million for a new drought pilot to assist Klamath Basin agricultural producers impacted by worsening drought conditions. The money will provide payments to producers to reduce irrigation demand.

“As ongoing drought conditions in the West continue to worsen, we need to find ways to do things differently in order to provide help and assistance to producers, Tribes, and communities,” said Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “We recognize that current USDA programs and services are not enough to meet this historic challenge, and this pilot will help us find more tools to add to our toolbox.”

Vilsack's visit comes after a bipartisan group of Western lawmakers called recently for a united effort on wildfires.

“It’s extremely important that we work together on this,” U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said in mid-July. “I’ve watched this for almost 30 years here in California and each year has become worse.” 

The USDA says it is coordinating with federal agencies, state governments, Native American tribes, and others to improve the resilience of the nation’s forests, grasslands, and agriculture communities. Vilsack is co-chair of President Joe Biden’s Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and Interagency Drought Relief Working Group.

In southern Oregon, the Bootleg Fire has become the largest active blaze in the country, burning 413,762 acres so far, according to Portland's KATU-TV. Officials told the ABC affiliate the lightning-sparked fire could burn until late fall or early winter.

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