House passes Kretz bill to help make forests more resilient to wildfires

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The Washington State House of Representatives today approved a proposal by Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, to make forests more resilient to wildfires and help fight future disasters.

“The lesson this state has had to learn about massive wildfires has been an expense one in terms of the loss of structures, property, livestock, and human lives,” said Kretz, whose legislative district in Northeast Washington has seen record wildfires over the past few years.

House Bill 1711 directs the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop and implement a policy for prioritizing forest health treatments to specific tracts of land in order to prevent and fight future wildfires.  The department would be required to have a two-year priority list, a six-year list and a long-term 20-year list of parcels to be addressed.

“In 2015 while walking the literal moonscape that used to be green forest, you could just see the difference between managed and unmanaged tracts of land,” said Kretz.  “Untreated land was burnt to dust and ash whereas land that was managed had a much better chance of surviving.  It was evident right in front of us – you could see where the fire died down as it hit more healthy, resilient forests.

“The commander at the time told me, ‘If you do one thing in Olympia, just one, make sure it’s this. We have to have areas of land that are treated and managed in a way to give us a chance, to put in a successful firebreak here and there.’  My bill does this by strategically looking for the best land suitable for creating firebreaks in the future,” continued Kretz.  “The topography, soil, prevalent wind conditions – all these things come into play.  We need to identify and manage these critical areas now so they give us the best chance of stopping wildfires in the future.”

Under provisions in the bill, forest treatments could include prescribed burns, thinning, reforestation, sub-landscape assessment, site preparation and possible road realignment.

“I think over the last few years, folks around the state have come to realize that we live in a fire ecosystem.  We can either have a little smoke now and then as we make our forests healthy or we can have a lot of smoke every decade or so as it all burns down,” said Kretz.  “Similarly, we can either spend a little money now to help strengthen our forests and mange this valuable resource or spend millions later trying to put out the fires.  There’s enough good science out there to give us a fighting chance if we manage the land properly.”

Kretz said testimony in committee revealed the state has spent almost $400 million on fighting forest fires over the past six years but only $21 million on forest health treatments.

Kretz’s bill passed the House unanimously and is now in the Senate for further consideration.

The 105-day 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end April 23.