It is going to be a very busy summer. Last year was the busiest year ever for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and this year may be ramping up to beat that record.
DNR is the the state’s wildfire fighting agency, and responded to more than 1,850 wildfires, across 440,000 acres last year. Of those, forty percent were west of the Cascades.
On March 28th, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Senate Democrats presented legislation to reduce Washington’s wildfire risk and create healthier forests. She also reminded all Washingtonians that “this is not an eastside or westside problem.” It’s simply a problem for all of Washington, be it threat of loss of home or property or the health risks associated with unhealthy air.
“This groundbreaking proposal establishes a dedicated revenue source and raises $62.5 million annually to fund wildfire suppression and prevention.”
“Never before have our wildland firefighters had to ask for so much, but never before have we faced a wildfire crisis of this magnitude,” said Franz in a press release. “In the face of this crisis, we need bold, forward-thinking investments to keep our forests healthy, our air clean, and our communities safe from fire.”
“Year after year, we rely on our state’s rainy day fund to reimburse catastrophic fire response. It’s time for the state to plan responsibly in order to protect communities and invest in healthy forests,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes. On average over the past half-decade, the cost for fire suppression has risen to $153m.
The proposed legislature seeks dedicated funding by reshaping the current model; increasing the tax on premiums for casualty and property insurance. At the moment, it is 2%, and the proposed model increases that to 2.52%. This increase should funnel an additional $62.5m towards fighting seasonal wildfires.
One of the figures they’re relying on to compel the increase is a study that found that for every dollar spent on forest rehabilitation, or getting to unhealthy forests before fire can and making them more resilient, saves $1.45 in fire fighting costs and actually creates $5.70 in economic activity.
Over the next decade, the DNR plans to convene an interagency forum to guide planning, assess priorities and coordinate actions.
Attribution to WDNR Press Release and DNR website