Washington state is one step closer to having a dedicated funding source for wildfire response after bipartisan House Bill 1168 was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives this week.
The bill — a top priority of Hilary Franz, the state’s commissioner of public lands — would create a funding source exclusively for wildfire preparedness, prevention and protection activities.
The broad legislation would also require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop a mapping tool for forest health and bolster a forest health workforce, create a Wildland Fire Aviation Support Plan and create a Small Forest Landowner Forest Health Program.
The legislation comes after a historic wildfire season blanketed the West Coast in smoke, ravaged hundreds of homes and led to the death of dozens of people and countless animals and livestock.
“Today, we celebrate this milestone. Tomorrow, we will continue to fight to get this bill across the finish line,” Franz said in a statement. “Lawmakers realize, after years of watching our towns, forests and grazing lands go up in smoke, that it’s time to act. It’s time to protect our forests and communities by investing in on-the-ground work to prepare for, and prevent, catastrophic wildfires across our state.”
In floor debate, co-sponsor Rep. Larry Spring, D-Kirkland, commended the bill.
“The idea we should just wait for a bigger snowpack or wetter summer is not a plan,” he said.
Wauconda Republican and co-sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz said the state Legislature has “nibbled around the issue the past few years.”
“Many of the biggest impacts have been on the lowest income residents in my community,” he said. “Wildfire has created, essentially, a homelessness crisis. And the health impacts of the smoke are real. For those of us in the heart of wildfire, it can mean weeks of not being able to see the sun.”
According to DNR, 293,000 acres were burned by wildfire in 2016, 438,000 in 2018 and 812,000 last year.