Legislation from Sen. Linda Evans Parlette that would cause a major shift in state government’s approach to wildfires will receive public hearings this coming week. The goal of Senate Bills 6510 and 6511 is to improve the health of Washington forestland by reducing the volume of fuel available to feed wildfires.
The Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee will take up Parlette’s legislation during its 1:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday in Senate Hearing Room 3, in the John A. Cherberg Building.
Out of 10 million acres of forestland east of the Cascades, nearly 2.72 million acres are at high risk of damage from disease, insects and wildfire, Parlette said. Much of that land is in the 12th Legislative District she represents. The record fire season of 2014 was surpassed in 2015, which also saw one firefighter critically injured and three others killed during the Twisp River Fire.
“State law implies that prescribed fire should be a last resort. Considering how wildfire devastated families and employers and communities in our region in 2012, 2014 and again this past year, I am ready to move prescribed fire to the center of a new long-term strategy for hopefully reducing forest wildfires and restoring the health of our forestlands,” said Parlette, R-Wenatchee.
SB 6510 would update the state’s smoke-management plan to create better opportunities for prescribed burns; SB 6511 is a broader policy proposal that would include conducting prescribed burns ahead of this year’s fire season, and directing the state Department of Natural Resources to develop a long-term plan to treat the health of the at-risk eastern Washington forestlands.
Parlette noted how the area’s geography allows smoke to become more than a nuisance, causing communities to suffer not only in terms of air quality but lost economic activity.
“My question to people who hesitate at the idea of more prescribed fire is this: How do you want your smoke? We can have it in periodic batches that are limited in length, with prescribed fire, or endure 30 straight days of smoke, as the out-of-control wildfires have brought in three of the past four years,” she said. “To me it’s a clear choice.”