In Washington, our expansive emerald forests help grow our food and clean our water. They drive our state’s economy and are a deep part of our culture. Simply put, our forests make Washington Washington.
With an unprecedented 54 wildfires in the month of March, and the increasingly frequent and intense fires of recent years, it’s clear our state is facing a wildfire crisis. It’s also a crisis of identity, forcing us to ask ourselves who we are and who we want to be.
More than two million acres of land burned in Washington in the past five years alone. Last year, the worst on record, our state saw 1,850 wildfires, 40 percent of which were west of the Cascades. We all remember the choking smoke that engulfed our homes in 2018, and many of us are already attempting to plan around a new “smoke season” in 2019. Have we really given up and accepted that as the new normal?
Now is the time for bold action to face this crisis head-on with a proactive solution. Our Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has an ambitious plan to fund critical forest and community resilience work. Senate Bill 5996 would raise $62.5 million annually for fire preparedness, prevention, suppression and forest health.
Whether your proverb of choice is "a stitch in time saves nine," or "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," the fact remains the same. In the past five years, fire suppression has cost Washington state taxpayers an average of $153 million annually – and that is only a small fraction of the total costs we’re paying for poorer health, lost business, damage to public infrastructure and disaster recovery. It simply doesn’t make sense to pay for catastrophic wildfire out of a “rainy day fund,” when we know how to invest now and save public money.
Our firefighters and scientists have handed us the how-to manual to tackle our wildfire crisis in the DNR’s Wildland Fire Protection Strategic Plan and the 20-Year Forest Health Plan. Senate Bill 5996 lets us implement these solutions at the scale this crisis deserves.
If we fail to act, we lose more than just our forests. We lose the the water that irrgates our food and is critical for human health. We lose a keystone of our outdoor recreation economies. We lose our cultural selves and the opportunity to reaffirm our identity as Washingtonians: people who work together, think big, make smart choices and protect what we love.
Close to Home
Read a personal perspective on the need to invest in our forests’ health by our Forest Partnerships Manager in this Seattle Times Op-Ed.
Pay a little now or pay a lot later
When wildfires strike, people lose homes and vehicles, adding up to huge costs for both policyholders and insurers. SB 5996 would dedicate funds from a small increase on property and casualty insurance to fund wildfire preparedness and suppression and forest health activities to decrease the risk of catastrophic fire. The cost would be less than $2 per month for the average household.
Forests in a changing climate
Improved forest management is a primary pathway to better resilience in the face of climate change. Read more about how nature can help solve our climate challenges.
Fighting fire with fire
It might seem counter-intuitive, but fire itself is an essential part of restoring our forests to health. Controlled, prescribed burning can help prevent catastrophic wildfires.