NBC RIGHT NOW - The Commissioner of Public Lands is requesting to double the Department of Natural Resources wildfire fighting budget. The increase in money would be used to improve wildfire response and create healthier forests throughout the state. In 2018 DNR responded to 1,700 wildfires in the the state, the 2nd most fires on record in state history. "When we have the resources, the air assets and equipment pre-positioned, and hand crews available we can get on those fires quicker and the costs of those fires go down," says Commissioner Hilary Franz.
If the budget increase is approved:
Make 30 seasonal firefighters permanent, allowing them to thin overly dense, unhealthy forests when not on the fire lines. It also creates opportunities for 80 additional inmates to fight wildfires and carry out forestry projects.
Add two helicopters to DNR’s fleet of eight for faster initial attack, which keeps fires small.
Fund a full-time wildfire training staff to ensure all of our state’s firefighters have the skills they need to suppress fires that burn more intensely and in more populated areas.
It invests in prevention by:
Adding seven outreach specialists to increase fire adapted communities and educate the public about how to reduce wildfires and make communities more resilient (90 percent of wildfires this year were caused by humans).
Funding a post-wildfire landslide reconnaissance team to identify landslide risks after fires and develop mitigation measures.
And it creates healthy forests, which reduce destructive wildfires, by:
Committing $17 million in capital funding to forest health projects laid out in DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which will restore 1.25 million acres of eastern Washington’s forestland.
Adding staff to assist private forest landowners and work with federal agencies to reduce wildfire threats on the 70 percent of unhealthy eastern Washington forests under their ownership.
Even though DNR had limited resources this past year, they still managed to keep 94% of fires to less than 10 acres in size. If the proposed plan is approved by legislature, the state would know as early as April 2019.