This week host Austin Jenkins talks wildfire, forest health and management, climate change and more in an in-depth full-hour conversation with Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
Franz says the fact that in 2022 the state experienced its least destructive wildfire season in a decade, is not due to chance.
She credits a number of factors: the Washington Department of Natural Resources new approach to firefighting, reacting fast to keep fires under 10 acres; more and better trained firefighters; better coordination with other governments including the U.S. Forest Service; preventative forest health treatments including thinning and prescribed fire; and new aircraft resources that enable quick response to fires.
Franz emphasizes that fighting fires is not just reactive — responding to fires — but proactive, managing the forest so fires, when they do break out, are not as destructive. A 20-year forest management plan adopted in 2017 is currently being implemented, with forests in Central and Eastern Washington being thinned, diseased trees removed, and prescribed fires scheduled under safe conditions.
While the worst wildfires in recent years have largely been east of the Cascades, that’s changing, according to Franz. She points to two fires currently burning on the west side, that continue to pour smoke into Western Washington during an abnormally dry October.
On the forest management front, the WA Department of Natural Resources operates in an environment of competing interests, from timber communities to environmental groups. Recent protests have taken place outside the meetings of the state’s Board of Natural Resources, which meets to discuss forest management including timber sales. Franz says she’s trying to bring competing interests together, to “fight for our forests rather than fighting over our forests.”
How should Washington manage the state’s forests, particularly older forests? How do we decide which forests to preserve and which to log — is it simply based on the age of trees, or overall ecological value? What should be approach to the state’s sustainable harvest calculation? What are the long-term policies Washington needs to adopt to manage its state-owned forests, waterways, grazing lands and more?
Those questions and more this week, as we sit down with Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz.