Saying her agency was “on the front lines of climate change,” Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz this week outlined the Department of Natural Resources’ plan to mitigate climate change and prepare for a warmer future.
The department published its “Plan for Climate Resilience” this week in a 96-page document long on ambition but short on specifics in some areas.
“We’ve put it in print and said, ‘Here’s the crisis at our doorstep and here’s how significant it will grow,’ ” Franz said of climate change. “We can save more money by being proactive and having all of our planning and investment with climate as a key part of its focus.”
In its plan, DNR cited projections from the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group of reduced snowpack, more hot days, lower summer stream flow and sea-level rise in Washington state as the climate changes. Scientists project more river and coastal flooding, heat-related illnesses, water shortages and harmful blooms of algae by midcentury.
The agency’s plan calls for increasing leases for renewable-energy projects on state lands, making DNR infrastructure and roads more resilient to flooding, and integrating climate concerns into its modeling of water resources, landslide risks and tsunami concerns.
It also calls for bolstering DNR’s ability to respond to wildfires, prioritizing forest health projects, using public lands for carbon sequestration and planning for emergency evacuations at DNR recreation sites.
DNR manages state lands to provide funding for institutions like schools and local taxing districts, such as rural fire, library or hospital districts. The department generates most of its revenue through timber sales, but also leases land for renewable energy, agriculture, communication towers, mining and other uses.
Franz’s vision calls for DNR to grow new sources of revenue and with an eye toward climate.
“We will diversify our portfolio,” Franz said. “This is not about transitioning off our working forest lands. This is about adding to it.”
Timber harvest on state-managed lands is expected to fall for the next five decades.
Franz said DNR, which also owns land in urban areas, could play a larger role in renting out commercial, industrial or residential space, sharing as an example that the agency owns downtown Seattle property leased as a parking lot.
“That should be a very tall building that provides commercial and residential opportunities,” Franz said of the property at the corner of Second Avenue and Lenora Street. “We would generate a significant amount of money.”
Some aspects of DNR’s climate plan would require investment from the Legislature. Franz this legislative session asked lawmakers to approve a bill that would create a surcharge on insurance premiums to pay for forest health projects, additional firefighters and equipment to fight wildfires.
A similar proposal last year failed to gain a floor vote.
Additionally, Franz said DNR remains off-track to meet the greenhouse-gas-reduction goals lawmakers set years ago for state agencies, in part, because the Legislature has denied funding requests to “green” some DNR facilities.
Franz said the agency has “old facilities” that are not as efficient and “a lot of off-road vehicles that are difficult to electrify.”
DNR is building a network of electric-charging stations, intends to expand electrification of its vehicle fleet beyond its current 35 percent, and aims to study the elimination of “noncritical business air travel” by its employees, the plan says.
Franz said the agency would draw up program-specific strategies for other DNR programs this year and could ask lawmakers for other investments.