With the 2019 legislative session just weeks away, Washington state lawmakers will be tasked with adopting a two-year budget, in addition to transportation and capital construction spending plans. One budget ask that has garnered quite a bit of attention in advance of the session is state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s $55 million request to fund wildfire response and prevention.
The requested $55 million would double the state’s current wildfire fighting budget and include:
• $11 million to fund 30 additional full-time firefighters and 80 additional inmates to help fight fires and maintain healthy forests
• 2 new helicopters
• $17 million in support of DNR’s 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan and staff to help private landowners reduce fire risks
Franz said that wildfires will intensify and cause more damage unless the state takes action. Department of Natural Resources officials said that the agency responded to 1,700 wildfires in 2018 that burned more than 350,000 acres.
From a news release issued by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz:
It is time for bold, forward-thinking investments to reduce wildfires. Inaction is not an option. Wildfire is not an eastside or west side issue, it is a Washington State issue. It’s time to invest in strategies that keep wildfires small and give back summers to every Washington resident.
I look forward to working with the governor and legislature to ensure our firefighters have the resources they need to keep communities safe and restore the health of our forests.
Some newspapers and columnists – including editorials in The Columbian and the Everett Herald, and an op-ed by Don Brunell in The Spokesman-Review – have come out in support of the funding request, echoing concerns that the impact of wildfires could worsen if nothing is done.
From the editorial in The Columbian:
Wildfires promise to be an ever more urgent issue. And it is one that impacts all of Washington, with about 40 percent of this year’s wildfires being reported on the west side of the Cascades.
That calls for robust investment. When it comes to wildfires, we can pay to limit them now or we can pay for them later.
The 2019 Legislative session is scheduled to last 105 days and begins Jan. 14th.