[4/1/19] Wildfire Legislation

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Last week Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Senate Democrats presented legislation to reduce Washington’s wildfire risk and create healthier forests.

This groundbreaking proposal establishes a dedicated revenue source and raises $62.5 million annually to fund wildfire suppression and prevention.

Last year was the Department of Natural Resources’ busiest fire season ever. DNR, the state’s wildfire fighting agency, responded to more than 1,850 wildfires, and 440,000 acres burned across Washington. 69 percent of those fires were east of the Cascades.

Wildfire suppression costs have averaged $153 million per year over the past five years.

“We’re seeing wildfires that are bigger and harder to contain, and we’re seeing them far more often,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), the sponsor of Senate Bill 5996. “ If we don’t take action now, this is what we can expect every summer in the years to come.”

As written, dedicated funding would come from increasing the tax on insurance premiums for property and casualty insurance from 2 percent to 2.52 percent.

This will generate $62.5 million annually for wildfire suppression and prevention. Revenues will be deposited into a new account, the Wildfire Prevention and Suppression Account.

“The question is whether we pay now to be proactive and protect our communities or whether we pay higher costs later when our forests burn and our air is filled with smoke,” said State Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz.

At the start of the legislative session, DNR laid out budget priorities fully fund the Wildland Fire Protection 10-Year Strategic Plan and the 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which targets 1.25 million acres of federal, state, tribal, and private forest for intensive restoration through selective thinning and prescribed burns

More than 2.7 million acres of Eastern Washington forests are in poor health, leaving them vulnerable to wildfires.

A recent study found that every $1 spent on forest rehabilitation saves $1.45 in firefighting costs and creates $5.70 in economic activity.

Actively managing forests restores them to a more natural and resilient state, reducing wildfire risk and creating jobs in rural economies.