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Catastrophic Fires: Target of WA Funding Proposal

Wildfire smoke is a major health and climate concern across Washington state. (NASA Earth Observatory/Flickr)
Wildfire smoke is a major health and climate concern across Washington state. (NASA Earth Observatory/Flickr)
January 6, 2020

OLYMPIA, Wash. - With the threat of wildfires looming larger, 2020 could be the year Washington state provides funding solely for preparing for them.

The state's Department of Natural Resources is urging lawmakers to create a Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Account, which would provide more than $60 million a year toward supporting fire crews and restoring forest health.

John Sinclair, the fire chief in Kittitas Valley near Ellensburg in central Washington, says dedicated funding to fight this threat is critical.

"It's truly one of those issues of you can invest some money in protecting the community or you are eventually going to have a devastating fire," he states.

Funding estimates for the wildfire account are based on DNR's strategic plans for protecting communities and forest health. Backers of the fund hope lawmakers will approve it this session, which begins Jan. 13.

Darcy Batura, forest partnerships manager for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, says many communities in the central part of the state face an even higher wildfire threat than places like Paradise, Calif., where more than 80 people died in the 2018 Camp Fire.

According to estimates by the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, 2.7 million acres of forest in the region have critical needs for restoration.

"And at our current pace, it will take at least 53 years to complete that work, and we think that's unacceptable for the forests and we think that's unacceptable for our local communities," Batura stresses.

Wildfires aren't just a danger for the central and eastern parts of the state.

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, says western Washington has seen an increasing amount of fires and feels the debilitating effects of smoke. He says the blazes also are a concern because of the millions of tons of carbon dioxide that they pump into the atmosphere.

"Which, of course, just creates a feedback loop," he points out. "Climate change is exacerbating these fires and the fires are exacerbating climate change. And so, part of the goal with this legislation is to try to interrupt that cycle and help put us on a more positive feedback loop."

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy of Washington contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA