OLYMPIA - Speaking remotely from his office in Nespelem during a virtual press conference with Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Colville Business Council Chair Rodney Cawston issued the Colville Tribes’ support for a state bill currently in front of the Washington Legislature aimed at improving long-term forest health and reducing wildfire dangers across the state.
“Today we are experiencing longer fire seasons, larger catastrophic fires with significantly more acres burned each year,” said Cawston. “These fires are encroaching our cities, towns and family homes. Wild land fires do not have jurisdictional boundaries. Poor forest health and climate change are issues that face all of us. It is very encouraging to see Washington’s federally recognized tribes to be included as partners to improve and implement more of a statewide cohesive wild land fire management strategy that addresses forest health while creating resilient landscapes.”
The bill, HB-1168, calls for the legislature to create a dedicated account for wildfire response, forest restoration and community resilience and the bill further asks the legislature to fund that account with $125 million in each biennium.
“We have been here before,” said Franz. “After every wildfire season, we have heard the calls for action on wild fire funding give way to the cycle of tragedy inaction and forgetting. We are here today to break that cycle.”
Both Franz and Cawston cited the 2020 Labor Day Weekend Fires that burned over 300,000 acres in a single day across Washington during the press conference.
On the Colville Reservation, the Cold Springs Fire and Inchelium Complex Fires burned over 200,000 acres, 80 homes, hundreds of miles of fence and electric lines and thousands of acres of timber, said Cawston.
“The perfect horrific storm of Labor Day Weekend was exacerbated by skeleton crews and air craft trying to fight against horrific winds,” said Franz. “With the demand for resources across western Washington, across eastern Washington, across the state and the West Coast continually we lose out because most of those resources at the national level are already being deployed to other states.”
State Rep. Larry Spring has sponsored the bill alongside Rep. Joel Kretz in the state house.
“From a legislative point of view and from a budget point of view I want to emphasize that $125M every two years is a lot of money, but on the other hand, paying for the cost of putting wildfires all over the state will cost us ever so much more. This is the old homily about an ounce of prevention. It just makes good fiscal sense if not good moral and economic sense.”
Franz noted the bill calls for $75 million to be dedicated to fire response over the biennium, including hiring 100 new firefighters and expanding the state’s air fleet; $31.4 million to be dedicated to forest health and work force development; and $12.6 million to be dedicated to community resilience projects.