CNW Fire Dispatch #13 – Wildfires and Us

CNW Fire Dispatch #13 – Wildfires and Us

Conservation Northwest / Nov 20, 2015 / Forest Field Program, Wildfire

Burnt bitterbrush in Okanogan fire area. Photo: Justin Haug / WDFW

Editor’s Note: During the intense wildfire season of August and September 2015, we published a series of Dispatches from staff and colleagues that live or work in the areas impacted by the fires. Dispatch #12 and links to the full series can be found here.

By Jen Watkins, Conservation Associate

On November 9th I attended the Wildfires & Us Summit in Wenatchee. It was a great community event for a part of our state so impacted by the last two seasons of wildfires.

The summit was packed with residents, community leaders, agency officials and non-profit representatives, including myself and George Wooten from Conservation Northwest. Our partners from the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition, of which Conservation Northwest is a member, were also in attendance. There were informational booths, strong presentations on science and policy, and videos interspersed.

We know that logging alone will not solve our wildfire problem. A combined approach of selective thinning, prescribed and controlled burning and greater community preparedness is required.
Highlights included:
  • Presentations from scientists on how our landscapes have evolved with fire, examining the idea of “it is not whether we choose to live with fire, but how and when we want our fire?”
  • The idea that three investments are key to living in fire landscapes:  (1) Development of fire resilient landscapes through restoration, prescribed fire, and thoughtful land use including zoning, (2) A well trained and equipped firefighting capacity with a strategic fire suppression strategy, and (3) Fire adapted communities with treatments around their homes, networks of support established, and escape routes identified.
  • Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark shared a request for around $24 million to the upcoming state legislature to make investments in our state in all three strategies above.
  • State Senator Linda Evans Parlette ended her comments by stating that smoke is the top issue we need to bring people together around. We know it impacts health and our economies, but it also comes with fire on this landscape and we can control when and how we get it through prescribed burns better than wildfires.
  • Bryan Pettit of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s staff let the community know that these issues are being heard in Washington, D.C. He shared components of a bill that the Senator is working on that would aim to bring support to the issues discussed at the summit.
What’s next

We’re conducting research on the recent fires and closely engaging with elected officials, agency leaders, forestry interests and conservation colleagues regarding the policy response to the wildfires of 2014 and 2015. We’ll be sharing more about those outcomes as they develop.

One thing is clear: in light of the recent fires it’s time we as a state, a nation and a community change the way we manage our forests and other wildlands to better prepare us for increasing fire conditions. We know that logging alone will not solve our wildfire problem. A combined approach of selective thinning, prescribed and controlled burning and greater community preparedness is required.

Scientists tell us that the fire seasons of 2014 and 2015 are unlikely to be anomalies in the coming decades. It’s up to all of us to work together for a future in Eastern Washington with healthy, resilient forests, watersheds, and wild ecosystems and vibrant, well-prepared communities.

For more about this topic and the Wildfires & Us discussion, check out the videos below from North 40 Productions that were played at the recent summit.

Wildfires & US from North 40 Productions on Vimeo.

Wildfire Education from North 40 Productions on Vimeo.