Washington state officials recently released a 20-year plan to improve the health of our forests and reduce wildfires.
Put together by 56 representatives from 33 agencies and organizations, it provides a guide for dealing with problems such as sick trees and overgrown forests.
The hope is that over time we can limit the spread of devastation caused by wildfires — something our state and Western region have struggled to deal with over several summers.
Now it’s time for federal lawmakers to do their part.
Last week the House approved the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, which supporters say focuses on forest management and allows thinning of overgrown forests on federal lands.
This limits wildfire fuel, backers say, which is necessary to prevent fires from spreading. It is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., an engineer and forester by trade, and has the support of Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
The proposal would accelerate the environmental review process for certain management practices like logging, controlled burns and salvaging timber.
But that seems to be a sticking point with many lawmakers in the Senate, including Washington state’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
“The House bill would lead to clearcutting our forests and lead to post-fire work that would cause flooding,” Cantwell said in The (Vancouver) Columbian.
Murray also said — in the same report by The Columbian — that she would not support legislation that “fails to establish long-term solutions,” and would “upend our bedrock environmental laws in the process.”
Instead, Cantwell and Murray and bipartisan Senators from Oregon and Idaho have introduced their own proposal — the Wildland Fires Act of 2017.
The bill directs the Forest Service and the Department of Interior to provide up to $100 million in funding to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires.
It also authorizes longer-term contracts to companies involved in forest restoration projects on federal land, and gives a preference to companies that will use forest products to create cross-laminated timber.
Whatever the differences, the goal of both the House and Senate proposals is the same: to make our forests healthy once again, and to prevent them from burning up year after year.
Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to find a way to compromise.
If state policymakers representing over 30 groups can find a way to agree on a forest restoration plan, then so can they.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 8.5 million acres burned nationwide last summer.
In Oregon, the Eagle Creek fire consumed the Columbia Gorge for days. In Montana, more than 1 million acres were destroyed. California had to declare a state of emergency in its deadliest fire season yet, which killed 41 people and destroyed 6,000 homes.
Enough is enough.
Similar wildfire bills have been brought up before at the federal level, and politics got in the way so the proposals went nowhere.
We hope that is not the case this year.
For too long, money for land management programs have been sacrificed. It’s time to focus on making our forests healthy.