Washington Officials Focused on Improving Forest Health, Avoiding Catastrophic Wildfires

Nov 16, 2018

President Trump went on the record last week in criticizing California officials for what he said were bad forest management practices that contributed to the horrific fires in that state.

Washington state officials say they are making a point of focusing on forest health related to wildfire prevention.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz says major efforts have been underway for about a year to focus on the fire threat posed to the forests of eastern Washington.

Franz says the region has about 2.7 million acres in federal, state and private forest lands that need to be treated to improve forest health, through thinning and removing diseased trees.

She says, last year, a 20-year forest health plan was begun in the state, with lawmakers helping to coordinate the funding needed.

“The goal of this plan to treat 70,000 acres a year for the next 20 years. That’s a total of 1.25 million acres. To be able to ramp up to such a significant scale is going to take investment, so we had the legislature support and adopt our forest health plan. We did it in partnership with them. They’ve been very helpful and last year they set aside $13 million for us to begin to do that work on the ground," she said.

Franz says her agency is asking lawmakers for $17 million for next year.

In addition, the state has signed a Good Neighbor Authority agreement with the federal government to work together to treat national forest land inside the state.

It allows the Department of Natural Resources to collaborate with local companies to perform a variety of watershed, rangeland and forest restoration work across state and federal property lines.

Franz says she believes the situation in California is much worse than Washington in terms of climate change and forest health.

“They have been facing much more significant drought, year on end compared to Washington State, which has rampantly increased the stress those forests are facing. I think it’s also important to recognize, and it hasn’t been missed on me is you have a great high number of people living in and among those forests,” she said.

Franz says she wants to ensure that five or 10 years down the road the projects they are working on now are viewed as a success in significantly reducing fire danger, in light of changing climate conditions.

Pine Beetle Damage Increases Fire risk
Credit Wa Department of Natural Resources