DNR's 10-year wildfire strategic plan


Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz discusses her wildfire strategic plan at DNR headquarters in Olympia.

This map, provided by DNR, shows the regions of Washington at risk of wildfires.

DNR’s fire costs, firefighting budget and forest health budget.

KIRO 7 News attended Commissioner Franz’s announcement of DNR’s 10-year wildfire strategic plan. I was on hand to show my support for the effort and was interviewed by KIRO 7.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

In recent years, the communities in North Central Washington have sadly experienced the significant impact of catastrophic wildfire. Our district has endured many devastating wildfires, including back-to-back years of the state’s largest fires in 2014 and 2015. Last year alone, the state Department of Natural Resources responded to more than 1,850 fires, a record high. Some 440,000 acres burned across Washington.

The state of Washington has been working toward a stronger, more comprehensive approach to addressing wildfires and reducing our risk over the long term. That’s why I’m encouraged by the Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan recently announced by Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. I’ve worked closely with Commissioner Franz and DNR staff over recent years and was glad to accept her invitation to attend the plan’s unveiling in January at Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Olympia. You can watch TVW’s coverage of the plan’s rollout here and click these links to view the full plan and plan summary.

I talked about DNR’s wildfire plan and the issue of wildfires in general during an interview with KPQ Radio earlier this session. You can click this link to listen to my KPQ interview. You also can hear my recent interview with KOHO Radio about the wildfire plan. I was also interviewed by KIRO 7 News. Click this link to watch the KIRO 7 news report.

As we’ve learned from the very informative Era of Megafires discussions, we must – in all neighborhoods and at every level of government – take a proactive approach with wildfires, including responsible thinning and prescribed burning. We must also ensure the state’s fire-suppression capability is as effective and efficient as possible.

Commissioner Franz is asking the Legislature for $55 million to fund her wildfire plan. This will pay for 30 more full-time and 40 additional seasonal firefighters, two more helicopters and other tools to prevent or battle wildfires in our state. Positioning these additional resources in strategic locations across the state will shorten the response time when new blazes are spotted and help us put out fires soon after they start rather than just “managing” the fires once they begin burning.

While $55 million might seem like a lot of money, the state already has paid hundreds of millions in recent years reimbursing the costs of wildfires. And that does not even factor in the negative long-term economic impact that wildfires have had on communities in our district, including the impact on our all-important tourism or recreational opportunities. There are also emotional costs and losses that cannot be quantified, as courageous firefighters from our area have sadly lost their lives or been severely injured battling these blazes. Finally, there is a quality-of-life impact caused by wildfires, as smoke can blanket a region, making it dangerous for people to be outdoors and difficult for many to breathe.

While the state has reimbursed firefighting costs through its budget stabilization reserve account, I believe it is a much more prudent use of your tax dollars to invest more money on the front end so we are positioned to respond more quickly and more effectively instead of paying so much money on the back end and suffering many severe losses as a result.

I am incredibly thankful for the leadership of Commissioner Franz and the level of dedication that she and DNR staff have demonstrated on this issue over the past two years. I am also very proud of the support the Legislature has provided through new policies and additional funding, including passage in 2017 of legislation I prime-sponsored directing DNR to set up a framework for assessing and treating fire-prone lands. My work and involvement continue to be inspired by the great work of many dedicated people locally, including those involved in the Wenatchee-based Wildfire Project and many of our local citizens, officials, and first responders.

As Commissioner Franz pointed out, the wildfire season is growing longer. The way I look at it, it’s not even a wildfire “season” anymore because fires are occurring as early as April, and some aren’t totally extinguished until a heavy rain or snowfall late in the year. Also, wildfires are no longer just impacting areas in central or eastern Washington. We’re seeing wildfires west of the Cascades, also. This is having a significant and growing impact on our state budget.

This year is a good year to take another strong, positive step forward on wildfires. The Legislature has addressed the McCleary decision regarding K-12 education funding. There is consensus that mental health and affordable housing are among the top priorities for this year. The issue of wildfires and wildfire suppression should be high on our list as well.      

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your State Senator.

Sincerely,

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Brad Hawkins

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