As many rejoice in the snowfall the season has already brought to the mountains, it can be easy for the thoughts of dry summer days to dissipate.
Heck, people are already predicting we’ll be drought free in 2016.
Slow down, folks. We can’t soon forget that we just emerged from the worst fire season in our state’s history. People are still displaced and hurting. Livelihoods have been damaged and lives have been lost. Recovery is a long way away.
And while those impacted work to rebuild, we need to look forward to find ways to prevent a repeat of the 2015 fire season.
No one is more aware of that task than state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.
He is the man in charge of stewardship of our state-owned lands, many of which produce income to fund schools and other vital programs. He is also in charge of the largest on-call firefighting force in Washington.
And in 2015, the state Legislature gave Goldmark 28 percent of what he had requested for budget resources for the department. And he didn’t get that money until July 1, well into fire season.
When bad things happen, help is usually available. Forty-seven states sent resources to Washington. Firefighters from as far away as Australia and New Zealand came to our defense.
One million acres of our state burned. Homes — 300 of them — businesses and livestock were destroyed. Three men battling one of the largest blazes lost their lives. The bill for the fire seasons is $165 million. Goldmark can recite the devastating statistics from memory. This is still fresh, despite the change in seasons.
So Goldmark is circulating through the state, talking to people about the need for more funding for the department. He hopes the Legislature will hear his cry, and so do we.
Goldmark will ask lawmakers for $24.3 million in the supplemental budget for equipment, training and to reduce the fuel that feeds the fires in our forests. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget provides $15 million, a number Goldmark says is not nearly enough.
Local firefighters — often volunteer departments in rural areas — are usually the closest resources when a wildfire breaks out. Goldmark wants better training and resources for them, in hopes of keeping fires small and contained.
With two-thirds of the wildfires last year caused by humans, we can all do our part to help prevent forest fires as well.
It seems money is always tight, and lawmakers have a delicate balancing act to navigate when allocating funds. But preventing and fighting fires have to be at the top of the priority list.
Goldmark says he finds it intolerable that the Legislature has refused to provide the minimum necessary budget in years past and now is the time to prepare for the 2016 season.
As Goldmark says: “Pennies invested can save millions of dollars.”