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Conservation Group Embraces Logging as Part of Wildfire Prevention Strategy

This week in Olympia, two forest health bills that we reported on two weeks ago continue to move along in the Washington legislature. What’s interesting is the public support those bills are receiving from conservation groups.

Wenatchee Republican Senator Brad Hawkins’s bill aims to treat a million acres of forests in Washington during the next six years and make them less susceptible to wildfires. That means cutting trees in densely-packed areas. It means prescribed burns to clear out fuel on forest floors. It means creating fire breaks that can stop fires from spreading. And it means keeping track of the work that’s done.

Okanogan County Republican Representative Joel Kretz’s legislation directs the Department of Natural Resources to identify forested state trust lands most in need of treatment. And it creates a fund from which money can be deposited and withdrawn for forest health projects.

“Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. For the record, Tom Bugert from the Nature Conservancy here in Washington.”

Bugert and his colleagues have testified several times at legislative hearings in support of the bills.

“Our goal at the conservancy is to restore six million acres of forestland here in the state," Bugert said. "We’re looking at using innovative approaches to thinning, prescribed fire, mill infrastructure collaboration and looking at a large landscape approach. We think this bill is going to help drive all of those conversations.”

That’s an important change in approach. Fifteen to 20 years ago, conservation groups would have viewed so-called ‘forest health’ or ‘wildfire prevention’ projects as merely excuses to cut trees, especially on public lands.

This week the Associated Press picked up a story from a newspaper that highlighted the group’s work to do treatment on thousands of acres of its own lands in the central Cascades. So we called James Schroeder. He’s the Nature Conservancy’s director of forest conservation and partnerships in Washington.

Doug Nadvornick talks with James Schroeder