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 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 backward.
“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 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 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.
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 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.”