Hawkins’ forest-health bill completes sweep through Legislature

Unanimous House vote sends community-inspired bill to governor

OLYMPIA…The state House of Representatives today joined the Senate in giving unanimous support to Sen. Brad Hawkins’ plan for reducing the risk of wildfires by improving the health of Washington’s forests.

Senate Bill 5546 is the third of Hawkins’ prime-sponsored bills passed by the Legislature this year and reflects one of his top legislative priorities for 2017. It will become law unless vetoed by the governor, which is not expected.

“Today’s vote is another strong statement of belief by the Legislature that forest health is important and very necessary to reduce our risk of massive wildfire,” said Hawkins, who serves the 12th Legislative District. “It shows that what began as a community conversation in the wake of the ‘megafires’ of 2014 and 2015 has become a legislative conversation at our Capitol.”

SB 5546, passed unanimously March 1 by the Senate, directs the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to set up a framework for assessing the health of fire-prone lands and treating them. It sets a specific goal of assessing and treating 1 million acres over 16 years, most likely through prescribed fire and mechanical thinning. The bill also includes a stakeholder process and biennial progress reviews to the Legislature.

“The success of this bill is a result of the hard work of a coalition involving DNR, the Nature Conservancy, private landowners, and committed local leaders who shared their work in Olympia,” Hawkins said. “I’m very pleased that our bill received unanimous support, and I look forward to gathering stakeholders again for the bill signing.”

Hawkins’ policy change is linked to an appropriation for DNR that is making its way through the Legislature’s budgeting process. He expects the funding to be approved in the 2017-19 operating budget.