Washington Lands Commissioner Supports Good Neighbor Authority
The spring floods in eastern Washington are just receding, but already wildfire season has begun. A brush fire pushed by strong winds burned nearly three thousand acres Sunday near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
This summer, crews in Washington and Idaho will work on forest restoration projects on state and federal lands. Some projects are aimed at lowering wildfire risk; others have different goals.
Officials in both states have embraced offers by the Forest Service, which has granted the states so-called Good Neighbor Authority to work in national forests. Idaho is working about a dozen projects in the Gem State; Washington has a handful going on both sides of the Cascades.
Washington Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says the magnitude of wildfires in recent years has made it essential that governments at all levels work together.
“The reality is, not only does our forest challenges, the disease and insects, cross property boundaries, so does our wildfires," Franz said.
"It is very clear that if we don’t work with our federal partners and if we aren’t able to get on federal lands and do the forest health treatments on federal lands that we’re doing on our state lands, then we will continue to face the catastrophic wildfires that we saw in 2014 and 2015 that cost our state over $500 million and burnt over a million acres of forest and ag land," she said. "We will continue to face the challenge of our forest health and disease and insect infestations crossing. And so that’s why this has to be something that isn’t just focused on state lands, but must be focused on our federal lands and the Good Neighbor Authority gives us that opportunity.”
“There are conservation groups out there who still think this is a ruse to go out and cut timber on federal and state lands," Doug Nadvornick asked. "What do you say to those folks when they say you’re not being tough enough on those timber companies?”
“We have a responsibility to be engaging with the public, engaging with our communities on the forest health crisis and the issue of how prevalent it is, how significant it is and how no action or not treating these lands is not an acceptable answer, because it will actually lead to further environmental degradation, not only the forests dying that are critical and valuable to clean water, clean air and for carbon sequestration," Franz said. "But we will also have even further environmental catastrophe and degradation as we see wildfires filling our air with smoke, polluting our waters and killing our wildlife and habitat.
“The authority that we signed, the agreement that we signed, is larger than just forest health treatments," she said. "It actually enables us to do wildlife and aquatic habitat restoration, where we’re actually able to go in on our federal lands and be able to start to restore some of the habitat area there for salmon and other wildlife that have just been challenged and they haven’t had the resources to do. It also enables us to extend our monitoring and research projects and learning about critical habitat and wildlife needs, as well as the opportunity to expand recreation for hikers and birdwatchers and other recreationists so they can actually grow the passion for our natural resources.
"We all know that state and federal governments have limited resources and limited capacity and the more that we’re partnering together and working together, then we can get greater efficiencies and economies of scale," Franz said. "So if I already have people on the ground on state land doing habitat restoration work or I have people on the ground doing forest health work, let’s be able to cross those boundaries and continue to be able to take care of the federal area as well as the state area. And as we know, just like wildfires, just like forest health issues, wildlife also crosses jurisdictional boundaries and this creates an opportunity for us to finally be operating in a way that it’s about an ecosystem and how it functions and it will function better, rather than jurisdictional lines.”