Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands asks for increased wildfire funding

Chelan Fires
First Creek Fire, Okanogan-Wenatchee NF, Washington, 2015; burn operation in Morning Sun Estates. Photo by Kari Greer.

Washington state’s Commissioner of Public lands has written an opinion piece making his case for increased funding for managing wildfires in the state.

In the excerpt below Peter Goldmark had just referred to the fires near Lake Chelan:

…It was a grim preview of the toll wildfire would eventually take across our state in 2015: burning more than a million acres; destroying 307 homes; robbing tribal communities of timber revenue and hunting grounds; and killing three Washington firefighters who were protecting homes on a hillside of Ponderosa pines near the Twisp River. It would cost state taxpayers $164 million.

The destruction of 2015 surpassed that of 2014, when the Carlton complex fire scorched 256,000 acres, the worst wildfire ever in our state. That season cost Washington taxpayers $99 million.

After two horrific wildfire seasons in a row, we need to prepare for the danger wildfire presents to our people, communities, forests and grasslands. Some legislators in both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee have declared willingness to increase funding. Yet, as the January rains fall in Olympia, the urgency fades for other lawmakers.

That’s dangerous. The lessons from 2014 and 2015 must shape how we prepare for future fire seasons.

I’m asking the Legislature now for $24 million to prepare our state for this fire season and beyond. This is roughly twice what Gov. Inslee proposed in his budget.

We need more firefighters. We need them positioned in the most fire-prone areas of the state. We need to provide grants to local fire districts to boost their capabilities. We need to train volunteers, National Guard troops, and local firefighters alongside professional Department of Natural Resource firefighters. We need experienced fire commanders to lead them, using modern radio equipment. We need to thin and maintain our forests, and help homeowners and communities clear vegetation to protect themselves from fire…


Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark heads the Washington state Department of Natural Resources.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.