Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has called for the legislature to support a bill that would provide a dedicated funding source for wildfire response and forest health work.
Franz says the bill would provide $125 million every biennium to fund new firefighters and aircraft and work to upgrade existing helicopters.
The funding would also speed up work on the state’s current forest health plan. It seeks to restore wildfire resistance to 1 1/4 million acres of forest.
Franz says it's not a cheap fix, but a bargain compared to what the state has paid to fight fires in recent years.
“We are already spending, and we’re spending on average to the tune of $153 million a year. Just the 2015 fires cost a total of $300 million," she said.
The bill has bipartisan support. The co-sponsors in the House are Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda).
“From a legislative point of view and a budget point of view, I want to emphasize $125 million every biennium is a lot of money. On the other hand, paying for the cost of putting out wildfires across the state will cost us ever so much more," Springer said.
Colville Tribal Chairman Rodney Cawston supports the bill.
“I always say we are the poster child for climate change here on the reservation. We've experienced every type of natural disaster in the last five to 10 years. These additional resources are what we really need," he said.
Wildfires are burning an increased amount of acreage in recent years, from 293,000 acres in 2016 to 438,000 in 2018 to more than 812,000 acres in 2020.