New plan for restoring health of Washington’s forests signed into law

After receiving unanimous support from both chambers of the state Legislature, a measure designed to ramp up the restoration of diseased eastern Washington forests was signed into law today by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz praised the bipartisan support for the measure, which passed the House unanimously last week after receiving unanimous support from the Senate last month.

“By making our forests more resilient to wildfires, we can reduce the risk of the catastrophic megafires we’ve seen devastate communities like Pateros and Wenatchee in the past few years,” said Commissioner Franz. “Measures like this can also protect the forest resources DNR manages for our underfunded school system and to provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife.”

Last year, more than 16,400 acres of DNR-protected lands were consumed by 807 wildfires. Out of 807 wildfires, 90% were human-caused.

The law created by Senator Brad Hawkins’ legislation (Senate Bill 5546) directs DNR to assess 100,000 acres of diseased and damaged forest each year and recommend to the Legislature a priority list of 60,000 acres per year for treatment through active management measures like selective thinning and prescribed fire. The goal of the legislation is to restore one million acres of the unhealthiest of Washington forests over the next 16 years. The measure also establishes a forest health advisory committee and requires DNR to report progress to the legislature every two years.

Supported across aisle

Commissioner Franz joined the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Hawkins, R-Wenatchee at the governor’s signing ceremony Thursday.

“Commissioner Franz certainly shares my interest in the health of our forests, and her staff provided valuable input as we developed this legislation. I look forward to continuing our work together to help our state be more proactive about wildfire,” Hawkins said.

A complementary bill, House Bill 1711, has been introduced by Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, to further advance restoration of Washington forests. Representative Kretz’s bill has also received unanimous support of the Legislature and is awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature.

Representative Kretz’s bill focuses on state owned forests that benefit our schools. It would establish a revolving fund that allows to DNR accelerate the restoration of state-owned forests for improved water quality, carbon sequestration, enhanced recreation and reduction of damage from insects and disease.

DNR’s wildfire mission

Administered by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, DNR is responsible for preventing and fighting wildfires on 13 million acres of private, state and tribal-owned forestlands. DNR is the state’s largest on-call fire department, with more than 1,300 employees trained and available to be dispatched to fires as needed. During fire season, this includes more than 800 DNR employees who have other permanent jobs with the agency and more than 500 seasonal employees hired for firefighting duties. Additionally, adult offenders from the Department of Corrections and juvenile offenders from the Department of Social and Health Services-Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration support firefighting efforts through DNR’s Correctional Camps Program. DNR also participates in Washington’s coordinated interagency approach to firefighting.

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