‘Historic’ Wildfire Funding Request Goes To Washington Legislature
Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is asking the state legislature to nearly double funding to manage and respond to wildfire.
Since 2008, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources has received nearly $21 million dollars on average from the legislature to pay for fire suppression annually. But every year for the last decade, the DNR has had to go back to the legislature after the fire season to ask for more than twice the original allotment to cover costs.
Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz says that’s backwards.
“It’s time to come together to make upfront investments that keep fires small and will ensure that our skies will remain smoke free,” she said during a press conference in Tumwater Wednesday.
This year Franz is requesting $55 million dollars for the next two-year budget cycle. She wants to create 30 full-time, year-round leadership firefighting positions. Her request includes nearly a million dollars for seven new outreach specialists to educate the public about fire.
Franz also wants $17 million dollars in capital funds to thin fuels and address forest health across the state.
“Our environment is hurting and it is hurting our economy. Our communities and our taxpayers cannot continue to sustain the losses that our forest health crisis is afflicting on Washington state,” she said, adding that over the last five years, wildfires have cost the state over a billion dollars.
Franz also added funding to assist private landowners to reduce wildfire threats.
Colville Tribal Chairman Rodney Cawston said tribal members are still impacted by fires that burned more than 250,000 acres on the Colville Reservation three years ago.
“Today, we’re living with those impacts, because we had mudslides, the water quality has been impacted, the air quality has been impacted,” he said. “We’re reconstructing roads, we’re reconstructing bridges. Our cultural resources were impacted. Many homes were lost,” Cawston said.
According to DNR, tribal lands account for 15 percent of lands in need of restoration in eastern Washington.
2018 Fire Season
This year, the fire season in Washington was the second busiest on record, according to DNR. The agency says they responded to nearly 1,700 wildfires and nearly 40 percent of those fires burned on the west side of the state.
State Rep. Larry Springer, a Democrat from Kirkland, expressed concern, noting that this year, the state saw wildfire where it was least expected.
“We have wildfires that break out on the Olympic Peninsula, near the rainforest,” Springer said. “That’s a wake-up call.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee did not comment on Hilary Franz’s budget request. In an email, a spokesperson said “the governor and staff are currently working on the governor’s budget that will be rolled out in December. We will reserve weighing in on any components of other budgets until then.”
This year in north-central Washington has echoes of 2015, when the complex of fires across Okanogan County burned tens of thousands of acres on the reservation, closer to Omak, and shut down Highway 155 across the reservation for long stretches. What was true then is very possible now: The fires took out a lot of timber that the tribes harvest and use for revenue. Continue Reading Echoes Of 2015 As Fires Burn Across Okanogan County, Force Evacuations In Nespelem
First a drought. Then record heat. Now Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a statewide wildfire state of emergency. Continue Reading Washington Governor Issues Wildfire Emergency, Wider Burn Ban As Hot, Dry Conditions Persist
The National Weather Serivce is warning of extreme fire danger Tuesday night and Wednesday. Lightning storms, dry conditions and winds are expected to combine Tuesday evening and Wednesday, priming Eastern Washington and North Idaho for wildfires. Continue Reading High Inland Fire Danger Tuesday Night And Wednesday With Possible Lightning And Wind