Commissioner Hilary Franz’s Wildfire, Forest Health Funding Bill Heads to Governor
April 22, 2021
Signature legislation will provide transformative investments in wildfire response, forest restoration, and community resilience
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz’s top legislative priority, House Bill 1168, to better prepare for and prevent wildfires, passed both chambers unanimously and was sent to the governor to be signed into law today.
House Bill 1168 was sponsored by Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda). The bipartisan legislation – developed by a wide-ranging coalition of firefighters, fire chiefs, tribes, environmentalists, public health advocates, and forest products companies – commits $125 million every two years over the next four biennial budgets ($500 million in total) to boost wildfire response, accelerate forest restoration, and build community resilience.
“To our firefighters and communities on the frontlines, know this: reinforcements are coming,” said Commissioner Franz, who leads our state’s wildfire fighting force. “Today, the state legislature took a historic step to change the trajectory of increasing fire and destruction. In the face of an unrelenting wildfire crisis, our state is rising to meet the moment. We are rejecting the notion that we must simply accept devastating fire seasons as a fact of life in Washington.
“I cannot thank our community partners, lawmakers, my team, and others enough for all the work they did to make the case for transformative action and investment. This is a great day for our state.”
The legislation comes on the heels of another devastating wildfire season where more than 812,000 acres burned across the state. In September 2020 alone, more than 600,000 acres burned in 72 hours. And, during two of the past three wildfire seasons Washington had the worst air quality in the world due to wildfire smoke.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for signature. The 105-day legislative session is slated to adjourn April 25.
Impact on the 2021 Fire Season
It will take time to get the new resources from HB 1168 on the ground. Due to how the legislature works, this new funding isn’t available to DNR until July, which makes it difficult to deploy new fire fighters and resources this year.
For example, DNR plans to recruit 100 new fire fighters. But, given the time required for hiring and training, those fire fighters won’t be available until January. This summer, DNR is asking for the public to practice fire safety and to comply with DNR burn restrictions to help Washington get through the 2021 fire season.
Commissioner Franz added that we are doing everything we can to protect communities right now, including securing access to additional planes and helicopters and expeditiously dispersing grants to local fire districts. While it has taken the state decades to get into the wildfire danger it is in, she’s hopeful that HB 1168 will, year after year, turn the tide and better protect our communities.
Deputy Communications Director