Washington Public Lands Commissioner pushes for wildfire bill in legislation

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said wildfires in Washington are becoming increasingly worse.
In 2020, we lost 800,000 acres of land and almost all of Malden, Washington.
Franz explained there are 25 Washington towns that are at worst risk of fire destruction than Malden, and Paradise, California.
“The reality is, it was a wakeup call, frankly a wakeup call that we’ve been having year after year,” Franz said.
She went on to explain that five out of the past six years have been filled with extremely destructive wildfires. This is why she’s pushing House Bill 1168, which would create funding for wildfire response, forest health and community resilience.
“Having those resources upfront; the air resources to get on these fires quickly and put them out. The firefighters, so we are not fighting these fires with skeleton crews which is what happened last year,” she said.
Franz also wants to create more diversity in fire crews by reaching out to underserved communities and women.  
“Then creating the pipeline from a number of different entries, from technical and community colleges to training academies to working with our labor communities and apprenticeships,” she explained.
The second part of the bill addresses forest health and 2.7 million acres of dying forest in our state.
“We’ve developed a forest health plan that has us creating 1.25 million acres of forest over the next 20 years; it will take investments to make these forests truly resilient to fires,” Commissioner Franz said.
She also wants communities to be better prepared if a wildfire strikes near their homes.

“We believe that we’re able to change the trajectory of these communities by helping homeowners, neighborhoods and communities create defensible space, everything from their own home, to the entire community through fuel breaks,” she said.

Franz worked with dozens of state and community entities to create this bill. For the most part, she said, everyone agrees this is needed in Washington.

“Where there isn’t agreement is how, so they agree on the what, but how do we fund it?”

Franz explained they’re already paying more every year, to fight fires, than what the bill allocates, which is $125 million every two years.

“It’s whether we’re gonna pay to react in smoke and flames or we’re gonna be proactive and have investments upfront and save dollars and save lives,” Franz said, “to be able to look our firefighters in the eyes and say every single year you have our backs, with limited resources putting your lives on the line, it’s time for us to have your back.”

The bill will go to the appropriations committee this Friday to discuss funding or sources of funding.