The Washington Department of Natural Resources hopes the legislature will approve a larger budget for forest health and fire prevention.
The agency has put together its two-year budget wish list that will be presented to the governor and legislature in January.
The total request is $55 million.
DNR Legislative Director Joanna Eide says it’s a significantly higher request, compared to recent years, but this time she says the agency wants to improve its strategy and be proactive in reducing fire danger, rather than having to ask for more money later to pay for firefighting.
“What we’ve done is had things paid for after the fact for suppression costs, the cost of fighting wildfires. But the fact is we are in a forest health crisis, and we're not going to get a different result if we continue with the same response that we’ve had,” Eide said.
Among the new strategies, a forest health plan that will treat 1.25 million acres over the next 19 years, and a soon-to-be released wildfire strategic plan.
Some specifics of the $55 million request include $11 million to fund more full-time firefighters. Right now, the agency only has 43 such employees, and hires about 550 part timers each season.
“We want to have additional resources for full-time firefighters, that would work year round, and when they’re not fighting fires, would be doing forest health treatments on state land,” Eide said.
The budget would also increase the number of inmates from correctional facilities that are hired to fight fires from 300 to 380, and fund two new helicopters for the current seven chopper fleet.
It would also help fund efforts to help private landowners reduce fire danger on their property.
“Wild land owners want to do the right thing. They just don’t have the information that they need to be able to get the resources that they need to take care of their property, and be able to take care of the issues that we see on the landscape. That’s why we have that funding ask in there is to really help out our small forest landowners,” Eide said.
The budget request will likely be modified by the time it is approved. Eide says last year her agency asked for $15 million for the forest health portion of the budget, and the legislature allocated $12 million.