Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz requested a $55 million wildfire spending plan Wednesday to help improve wildfire response and create healthier forests.
This would double the state’s current wildfire fighting budget.
Department of Natural Resources officials said they have responded to 1,700 wildfires so far in 2018. This is the second most fires on record for one year. They said nearly a record 39 percent of the fires were west of the Cascade Mountains this year.
The proposal seeks to add 30 firefighters to help thin, dense and unhealthy forests when they are not on the fire lines. This would also give 80 additional inmates to help fight wildfires and carry out forestry projects. Franz also wants to add two more helicopters to DNR’s fleet and full-time wildfire training staff.
Franz’s proposal also looks to invest in prevention by adding seven outreach specialists to help educate communities about fire prevention. She also wants funding for a post-wildfire landslide investigation team to identify landslide risks after fires.
The proposal would also commit $17 million to healthy forest projects laid out in DNR’s 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan and add staff to help private forest landowners and work with federal agencies.
Franz said that wildfires will continue to strengthen if the state does not increase investments in wildfire preparedness and forest restoration.
“It is time for bold, forward-thinking investments to reduce wildfires. Inaction is not an option,” Franz said in a press release Wednesday. “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.”
DNR officials said they and their partner agencies kept 94 percent of this year’s fires to less than 10 acres in size. Nearly 350,000 acres still burned statewide.