New budget backs work to lower Squilchuck wildfire risk

OLYMPIA…A $100,000 appropriation secured by Sen. Brad Hawkins in the updated state budget will advance efforts to reduce wildfire risk in the Upper Squilchuck Valley.

The state Parks and Recreation Commission will use the money at Squilchuck State Park to reduce the amount of potential wildfire fuel in 20 acres of forest near the southwest corner. The land is adjacent to the Forest Ridge community of about 120 homes.

“State Parks and the Forest Ridge Wildfire Coalition (FRWC) have been working together in recent years to improve forest health in Squilchuck State Park. The work on this one portion of the park is expected to be especially challenging, but it will continue to be a problem area and jeopardize adjacent land if it goes untreated,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins, who serves the 12th Legislative District, said his work on the budget request dates to this past August, when the FRWC reached out to him.

“The Forest Ridge Wildfire Coalition is a model for what the FireWise effort is trying to accomplish,” Hawkins explained. “When they asked for my help, I knew it was because they had reached a point of needing some extra help.

“I am very pleased that budget developers agreed to my request because it’s much needed,” added Hawkins. “I pushed hard for it, no doubt, but the real credit goes to their coalition for the awesome work they do.”

The appropriation is also welcome news to Jerry Holm, FRWC chairman, who said it represents a critical boost to the group’s efforts. Last year the coalition partnered with its non-profit neighbor to the west, Scout-A-Vista, and the Cascadia Conservation District to complete fuels reduction work on about 10 acres – about half the size of the Squilchuck State Park piece that will now be in line for the same kind of remediation.

“We’ve been talking and working with Parks about Squilchuck for the past three to four years,” Holm explained. “They’ve been very good at doing what they can with limited resources, and we’re grateful for that. But they haven’t been able to tackle one area that is of particular concern to us because it would have to be done by hand, by professional foresters – work that their regular budget just can’t cover at this point.

“As a non-profit community group – property owners who do what we can within our means to be proactive about reducing risk – we are very appreciative of Senator Hawkins’ focus and engagement on this issue. By landing this funding this year he’s done something that didn’t seem possible, and we are absolutely delighted.”

Holm said the budget appropriation represents the latest in a string of positive experiences the coalition, founded in 2010, has had with State and local governments – not only with the Legislature and the parks agency but also with Fire District 1, the Cascadia Conservation District, Chelan County, the Department of Natural Resources and others.

“These things don’t happen easily, but we’ve found that with persistence and engagement and help from people like Senator Hawkins, we can keep moving in the right direction.”