Walden: Emergency Funding a Step Forward, but Much More Aid Needed for Eastern Oregon
The USDA today announced that they would make available $120,000 from the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to ranchers affected by drought and wildfire in Baker County and Wallowa County. Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who through meetings with the Farm Bureau, Oregon Cattlemen's Association, and high-ranking USDA officials is leading an effort to ensure Oregon ranchers and farmers can qualify for additional federal disaster assistance programs, welcomed the funding but said much more aid is needed.
"This year's drought and wildfire have taken a tremendous toll on Oregon's ranchers and rural economy," Walden said. "Tragically, eastern Oregon this year again has been hit hard by drought and catastrophic wildfire, placing ranchers in a very vulnerable economic position. Due to disaster application timelines, legislation and more federal funding will be needed to address impacts in other areas of my district, including Harney, Grant and Malheur counties. That's why I have been convening meetings with top USDA officials and communicating with the Secretary of Agriculture, and will lead a legislative effort to ensure ranchers and farmers can qualify for critical aid."
In an August 16 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Walden pressed the USDA to release and make available as soon as possible excess funding in the Emergency Conservation Program for those impacted in eastern Oregon by drought and wildfire. ECP funds can be used by ranchers and farmers to rehabilitate lands damaged by wildfire and offset cost of hauling livestock water. Further, Walden also requested that the Secretary authorize emergency grazing of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage throughout eastern Oregon, something that was done in 2003 to ensure additional livestock feed.
This week, Walden again appealed to Secretary Johanns, this time asking for the USDA to expedite the disaster declaration requests made by the state for Baker, Harney, Union, Klamath, Malheur, and Wallowa counties.
"Based on the continuing drought conditions with no foreseeable change in the weather patterns, it is imperative that USDA act quickly to ensure livestock producers and farmers in these affected counties would be eligible to receive much needed federal financial assistance," Walden wrote in the letter, dated September 6.
In a meeting Walden organized in his Washington, D.C. office yesterday, he hand-delivered that letter to several high-ranking USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) officials, including:
· USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Teresa Lasseter
· FSA Conservation and Environmental Programs Director Robert Stephenson
· USDA Congressional Relations Assistant Secretary Linda Strachan
During the meeting, Walden told USDA officials that due to statutory and agency application timelines, drought and wildfire affected ranchers in Harney, Grant and Malheur County would not qualify for ECP funds. Walden will work to change the current statutory timelines in order to provide ranchers in other parts of the district with the possibility of qualifying for federal disaster assistance.
Both letters, including the disaster declaration requests from the state, are attached to this release.