Safeguarding Wildlife Habitat, Clean Water, and Communities

By Tom Bugert, State Legislative Director

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has announced its 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan for Eastern Washington.

The plan, unveiled by Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz in Cle Elum on Oct. 25, involves a combination of scientific restorative work and prescribed burn treatments across 1.25 million acres of eastern Washington forestland. That’s the land-based equivalent of combining Seattle, Spokane, Yakama, Ellensburg and Wenatchee.

State Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz chats with James Schroeder, Director of Forest Conservation Partnerships for the Conservancy’s Washington program, on Cle Elum Ridge overlooking the Teanaway Community Forest and the site of the Jolly Mountain Fire. Photo © Scott Richards/TNC

At The Nature Conservancy, we’ve been working on forest health issues for years, conducting foundational science, developing and supporting forest collaboratives that can tackle forest health issues across artificial property boundaries and engage a broad and deep community of stakeholders, and working for state policies that will enable us to tackle this problem.

We’re looking forward to working with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to implement this plan, which has 5 overarching goals:

  1. Accelerate the pace and scale of forest treatments,
  2. Strategically focus work to protect communities and values at risk,
  3. Promote rural economic development and use of restoration by-products,
  4. Respect and integrate diverse landowner objectives, and
  5. Monitor progress and adapt strategies over time to ensure treatment effectiveness.

Tree thinning is one of the main treatments for restoring forest health. Photo © Zoe van Duivenbode / TNC

More on the impact of fire suppression: Read our story about forest health!

Washington’s forests are out of balance. Decades of fire suppression and a changing climate have left our forests densely packed and susceptible to uncharacteristic, high severity fires, while development of homes and businesses in forests make fighting these fires more difficult. As a result, forest fires often burn with uncharacteristic severity and duration and pose grave threats to communities, fish and wildlife.

Commissioner Franz invited stakeholders who had worked on the 20-year Forest Health strategic Plan for Eastern Washington to join her for a group photo after the plan was announced in Cle Elum Oct. 25. Photo © Scott Richards/TNC

We know this threat is going to get worse with climate change. With this strategic plan, we have an opportunity to get out ahead of the fire issue, make our forests more resilient in the face of climate change, and protect fish and wildlife habitat and cool clean water for all of us.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has created an advisory committee that brings together representatives from industry, conservation groups, including The Nature Conservancy, forest collaborative land managers, affected communities, and those who protect wildlife habitat as well as those who respond to wildfire emergencies.

The Forest Health Strategic Plan gives us the framework and the tools we need to restore Washington’s forests to health at a scale that matches the scale of our forests. This strategic plan sets up a framework for us to plan to restore our forests, to ensure abundant wildlife habitat, clean water and thriving communities throughout Central and Eastern Washington.

Banner Photo © John Marshall / TNC

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