Wildfires place focus on prevention measures

by Ashley Bach

As Washington faces one of its worst wildfire seasons ever, including the largest fire in state history, attention is turning back to the wildfire budget requests made earlier this year by Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $20 million for forest thinning and other wildfire prevention measures. Lawmakers gave him $10 million.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $4.5 million to actually fight the wildfires as they happen. Lawmakers gave him $1.2 million.

In an interview with the Seattle Times this week, Goldmark said he’s upset that the Legislature didn’t give him his full request, especially in light of the massive wildfires that came to pass.

“I’m disappointed in their lack of understanding that public safety is a big issue,” Goldmark, a Democratic statewide elected official who runs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said in an interview. “We’re doing our best with the scarce resources.”

State lawmakers say their practice is to go back and fund the firefighting from the previous summer in a supplemental budget, which is what happened this year for the 2014 wildfires. And Gov. Jay Inslee says the lack of funding never limits how the state fights wildfires (since the firefighting is always eventually paid for). 

But is this smart budgeting? And regardless, it doesn’t explain the relative lack of funding for forest thinning and wildfire prevention.

Not everyone is happy with how the budgeting turned out.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, said Goldmark’s budget requests were reasonable and could have started to make a dent in long-neglected forest-health issues.

“I was unhappy that we didn’t get more than that,” said Kretz, whose district includes the fire-stricken Omak area. “It doesn’t seem that the urban legislators are making a connection between what’s happening over here and forest health.”

Goldmark said the damage from this year’s fires will give him more evidence to bring back to lawmakers next year.

“I’ll do everything I can to bring the enormity of the damage and the destruction and the economic impact in those communities to the legislative hearing rooms,” he said.

When Goldmark made the budget requests earlier this year, he received support from several newspaper editorial boards. And now other papers have come out in support this month.

The Olympian said the Legislature “skimped” in not fulfilling Goldmark’s full requests, and here’s what the Everett Herald had to say:

The threat was present in mind enough to convince the Washington Legislature to commit $10 million in its budget, money requested by the state Department of Natural Resources to thin forests and remove brush on public lands and help homeowners prepare defensible spaces around their homes, a program called Firewise, during the next two years. The DNR had sought $20 million for the work, a request — now illuminated by the fires — that looks more than justifiable and should be addressed when the Legislature next convenes.


[First posted at WFPA One Voice Blog.]