After this year’s intense wildfire season, the Washington State Legislature must learn a few lessons on the importance of funding prevention efforts.
TWO consecutive years of record-breaking wildfires have devastated forests and traumatized communities around Washington.
As hundreds of families still sort through insurance claims and pick up the pieces of their lives, experts warn that future wildfire seasons might be just as furious because of the effects of climate change.
This means the state must alter its standard operating procedures.
Gov. Jay Inslee and state lawmakers, who convene in January in Olympia, must prioritize funding to help fight wildfires.
Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark’s previous pleas for additional funds to train more people and suppress fires — through forest thinning and fuel reduction, such as removing brush, for instance — have been severely shortchanged.
Lawmakers so far have gotten away with this by going back each session and paying the state Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) unmet costs accumulated during the previous firefighting season.
Footing the bill after disasters while ignoring prevention measures is bad policy that comes with a higher price in the long term and a greater risk of the loss of human lives.
With less than $30 million in state funding allocated to firefighting costs this year, DNR tried to contain at least 59 fires with more than 11,000firefighters and support staff. That was far short of what was needed. The agency will now have to ask the Legislature next session to pay $137 million in uncovered costs.
Meanwhile, more than 1 million acres of land have been destroyed, along with hundreds of homes. In August, three firefighters were killed in the line of duty.
“I can’t stand by and watch this happen again,” Goldmark says.
DNR is asking the Legislature for $24 million for next year’s budget. About $6.3 million of that would be invested in fire suppression, which includes buying new equipment, forest thinning and improving the ability to rapidly deploy personnel and resources on the ground and in the air.
The rest of the package would be dedicated to assisting local fire districts, training crews, placing experienced firefighting leaders more strategically in vulnerable communities, and modernizing technology.
Lawmakers must take these requests seriously and invest in protecting land and lives.