CNW Fire Dispatch #5 – Cantwell fire policy hearing
Conservation Northwest / Aug 27, 2015 / Legislation, Wildfire
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of our dispatches from staff that live or work in the areas impacted by this year’s fires.
By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director
Today, I attended a field hearing on fire policy hosted by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). Sen. Cantwell opened the hearing by saying “every dollar spent on (fire) prevention saves seventy in suppression”, and she’s working to pass bipartisan legislation on this issue by the 2016 fire season.
We’re encouraged by Sen. Cantwell’s willingness to address this important topic head on. And we support her forthcoming Wildfire Management Act of 2015, which should offer a smarter and more strategic way to finance fire response and improve community preparedness. And since in many dry ecosystem types fire is inevitable, Senator Cantwell’s approach would increase use of carefully managed controlled burning, as well as allowing “good” fires to burn where and when safe and appropriate.
These needs were echoed in today’s hearing by my colleague Dr. Michael J. Medler, a member of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE), past President of The Association for Fire Ecology, and Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University. Dr. Medler was part of the expert panel.
“400 million acres need (prescribed fire) treatment and only two million acres a year are occurring,” said Dr. Medler. “We can’t cut our way out of this. We need to use fire more. We need a Marshall Plan.”
His testimony, which can be read in full here, included the point that while selective forest thinning must be part of the fire prevention equation, logging alone won’t solve our fire problem. We need prescribed and controlled fires, along with more firewise communities and buffers around homes and properties in fire prone areas
In fact, all five panelists today highlighted the need for greater fire preparedness. Along with Dr. Medler, Dr. Tom Zimmerman, President of the Board of Directors for the International Association of Wildland Fire, and Nick Goulette, Executive Director for Fire-Adapted Communities Learning Network, also specifically promoted increased controlled burning when conditions are safe to do so.
Even Dr. Peter Goldmark, Washington State Public Lands Commissioner, talked about increased forest resilience through preparedness like fuel treatment. Though I’m disappointed he did not specify the need for more proactive prescribed burning.
We’ll have much more on this topic in posts to come. But overall it was a productive session today. For more big picture perspective on this complicated issue, check out our Fire Dispatch #2 from Dave Werntz, Conservation Northwest’s Science and Conservation Director.
For the latest official fire updates, we recommend Inciweb, this GIS map, and the Okanogan County Emergency Management, Chelan County Emergency Management, Colville Tribes Emergency Services, Stevens County Fire District #1 and Ferry County Sheriff’s Office / 911 Facebook pages.
We also want to express deep gratitude to all the firefighters, first responders, National Guard, U.S. Army servicemen and women, and all the other heroes working to keep our communities safe during this demanding fire season. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted.