DNR wildfire and forest restoration bill heads to Governor

DNR wildfire and forest restoration bill heads to Governor

Conservation Northwest / Apr 29, 2021 / News Releases, Wildfire

The following is a statement from conservation northwest’s science and conservation director dave werntz and policy director paula swedeen, ph.d., regarding the passage of house bill 1168:

After passing both chambers of the legislature, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) forest health and fire suppression bill, HB 1168, is heading to the Governor where it is expected to be signed into law.

With an additional $125 million over the next two years, and $328 million total by 2027, the bill will significantly increase the state’s investment in firefighting and provide support for forest management and some community preparations for living with fire. While $71 million will be dedicated to hiring 100 fire fighters, expanding the air fleet, buying new bulldozers, and expanding fire departments, only half of that, $35 million, will support forest thinning and burning that could shape fire behavior and reduce risk of ecologically uncharacteristic wildfire events. Another $20 million will be invested in helping communities live with fire by reducing fire risks for homeowners ($6.6 million) and for grants to communities in fire-prone areas to prepare for living with fire ($4 million).

The bill is a good step toward advancing DNR’s 20-year forest health strategy to restore ecological resilience of forests and watersheds, although we remain concerned that the anti-fire bias driving the legislation and prioritizing spending will undermine forest health outcomes, as rapid deployment of prescribed and managed fire are urgently needed to effectively restore and prepare forestlands for climate change.

The bill also encourages the Commissioner of Public Lands to pressure the U.S. Forest Service to curtail scientific and public review on federal lands in some cases, and to outsource environmental review to private contractors. We oppose the use of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) for large scale forest health treatments because their limitations on public input undermine achieving quality restoration on the ground.

DNR has assured us that they only support the Forest Service using CEs on smaller scale projects like prescribed fire or pieces of aquatic restoration projects and that they would memorialize this commitment in writing. We also worked with DNR to modify language in earlier drafts of the bill to encourage increasing staffing capacity of the Forest Service to conduct the integrated planning and assessments needed for high-quality, scientifically-informed forest health treatments, though for now, outsourcing is still part of the strategy to streamline project permitting.

We will continue to work with the DNR through our Forest Field Program and participation in the Forest Health Advisory Council to ensure funds allocated by this legislation are applied to restore forests and watersheds to ecological resilience through scientifically-informed landscape assessments, and to protect and prepare communities to live with the inevitability of fire in a climate-changed world.

Learn more about our FOREST FIELD PROGRAM collaborating on and restoring National Forest lands, or our work on STATE FOREST LANDS.
Prescribed fire in pine forest. Photo USDA Forest Service