Guest Commentary: Fire prevention plan to be good for environment, economy alike
Finding common ground ...March 12th, 2020
Lawmakers in Olympia are grappling with how to solve the state’s biggest challenges, including our worsening wildfire seasons, sluggish rural economies, and lack of affordable housing.
Our politically divided world makes the legislators’ jobs even tougher. But we know from experience that we are stronger when we work together. Even in efforts to improve our economy and protect our environment – two goals often pitted against each other – we find solutions that do both.
Washington’s forest health and wildfire protection plans reflect that approach. Created by scientists and firefighters at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources with buy-in from numerous public, nonprofit, and private partners, these strategies modernize our firefighting force and get at the root of our wildfire crisis – the unhealthy and overgrown forests common in Eastern Washington.
Our massive 2015 wildfire season ranked only behind transportation as the top source of Washington greenhouse gas emissions. By removing underbrush and smaller, unhealthy trees from these forests, we open room for mature, healthy trees to grow stronger, remove fuel for the devastating wildfires we’ve seen, and prevent carbon from burning up into the atmosphere.
When we can create jobs and market demand for forest restoration byproducts, that’s a big win for our environment and our economy.
Washington is emerging as a leader in cross-laminated timber technology, which converts smaller diameter trees into wood panels that are large, up to 12 feet wide by 60 feet long, and strong enough to build high-rises. Since the 2017 launch of the forest health plan, two CLT facilities have set up shop in our state, including Katerra’s new factory in Spokane Valley.
The current facilities are only the beginning. The need exists for more mill infrastructure and advanced manufacturing jobs in our rural communities to meet dedicated material supply for mass timber manufacturing while meeting forest health and wildfire protection goals.
To be successful, however, these forest health and wildfire protection strategies need a new, dedicated funding source in Olympia. It’s time to make a long-term commitment to fixing these problems without draining state tax dollars so desperately needed for schools, mental health and addiction facilities, and housing.
For these reasons, we support House Bill 2413, which would raise $62.5 million a year for this new account. The money would come from a nominal surcharge on property and casualty insurance policies, costing the average household about $1 a month. Working with groups like the Forest Health Advisory Committee, the Department of Natural Resources will use the funds to support forest management practices, such as thinning, reforestation, and research and development for emerging forest products like CLT.
This plan is endorsed by The Nature Conservancy, the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, The Trust for Public Land, Forterra, Washington Fire Chiefs, the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, and the American Lung Association, among others.
Instead of allowing too many trees to fuel the next megafire, let’s put them to work storing carbon in our buildings and growing our housing stock. It will put more Washingtonians to work, too.
Hilary Franz is Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands. Craig Curtis is chief architect for Katerra.