Auditors: Odot Can Learn From Missteps In Wildfire Logging

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Transportation can learn from its challenging experience overseeing the biggest wildfire cleanup job in state history, according to Oregon Secretary of State auditors.

Auditors did a limited review of the state’s hazard tree removal operation at the agency's request after public concern over the number of trees being tagged for removal and cut down, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“Oregon’s 2020 wildfires, and the scale of debris removal executed by the state, were unprecedented,” auditors wrote in their report released Wednesday. “Much of the planning and work was done in a rapid timeframe with staff who had little to no prior experience with disaster debris management. Lessons learned from the experience should be carried forward for future preparedness efforts, which include planning, training, and exercising, to better respond and recover from disasters.”

The transportation department oversaw removing hazardous waste and trees along state highways left by wildfires that burned more than 1.2 million acres (486,000 hectares) and over 5,000 homes and businesses.

The advisory report found that ODOT could improve internal communication and the quality control process for tree removal and said other states have contracts in place for debris removal services before disaster strikes.

The report also says the state needs to improve its legal process for accessing private properties during a wildfire cleanup.

Oregon lawmakers held hearings on the reported problems and in June, ODOT hired arborist Galen Wright, who found the agency was properly identifying hazardous trees for removal.