Map courtesy of the Washington State Department of Nature Resources.

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Watershed protection / management Type: Tools / Resources

Eastern Washington Report Represents a Big Step Forward for Forest Health, FAC

Authors: Wendy Fulks

Hundreds of homes burned in Washington in 2014. The 256,108-acre Carlton Complex fire was the largest recorded in state history. So it’s timely that the “Eastern Washington Forest Health: Hazards, Accomplishments and Restoration Strategy” report prepared last month by the state Department of Natural Resources proposes a variety of progressive approaches and funding mechanisms to help address fire, forest health and community safety issues.

According to the report, “climate change is expected to exacerbate forest health and wildfire damage over the coming decades. Projections for the Northwest indicate that the area burned each year could increase more than 300 percent by 2100 as compared with 2000 due to increased summer temperatures and decreased summer precipitation… Community, infrastructure, natural and economic values remain at high risk from wildfires across much of eastern Washington.”

Many individuals and organizations provided input and reviews of the report, including staff from the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition (a FAC Learning Network Hub) and The Nature Conservancy. The report represents somewhat of a new approach for state land managers and other stakeholders in assessing forest health issues and developing solutions.

According to Reese Lolley, The Nature Conservancy’s director of Eastern Washington Forests:

This report represents significant progress in developing integrated strategies and partnerships that, if supported and implemented, will produce bigger outcomes and result in more resilient forests and communities in Central and Eastern Washington.

We’ve progressed from where we were in 2012, namely talking about the causes of forest health problems, to proposing and expanding innovative solutions. This report–on multiple levels–looks at what’s happening across the entire Central and Eastern Washington landscape, the ‘how much’ and ‘where’ of forest restoration need regardless of ownership, and addresses both large landowner roles and local community roles.

E_WA_forests_reportRecommendations in the report include:

  • Increasing forest restoration across ownerships;
  • Improving markets for small-diameter wood;
  • Increasing the community and workforce capacity and expertise to conduct forest restoration, and
  • Strengthening collaboration among forest landowners, stakeholders and others who have a role in reducing the numerous threats to the health of eastern Washington forests.

The report also states that “a top priority should be to help homeowners, communities and land managers in fire-prone areas prepare for and reduce their exposure to wildfires.”

Annie Schmidt, executive director of the Chumstick Coalition, believes that this year’s wildfire season was at least partially responsible for the recommendations in the DNR’s report.

The 2014 wildfire season caused us all to take hard look at what we’re doing and why. It made us more open to trying different solutions. We are really looking to see what role we can all play. State departments, legislatures and communities all have a role. In order for us to be effective, we must work across organizational and community divides. The Forest Health report does an excellent job of recognizing the need for cross-boundary solutions and fire adapted communities.

The report outlines five broad strategies, one of which is to promote fire adapted communities. There is a proposal to establish 50 new Firewise communities, and the report recommends helping communities implement existing Community Wildfire Protection Plans by providing more state funding, especially in areas where federal funds are being used to treat hazardous fuels.

Continued hazard reduction funding focused upon community protection reduces risks to people in harm’s way, helps control wildfire suppression costs and provides an incentive for communities to take proactive measures to protect themselves from wildfires.

It remains to be seen how the state legislature will react to the proposed strategies and funding request, but Lolley believes the report will help frame discussions with legislators in 2015. He’s particularly interested in how Washington can invest and institutionalize funding streams to ramp up collaborative forest treatments and community preparedness actions that reduce future costs of fire. These investments will help natural and built communities prepare for what is looking like the new norm– increasing amounts of fire.

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