Senate backs Hawkins bill supporting ‘Good Neighbor’ projects

The state Senate this evening unanimously approved Sen. Brad Hawkins’ proposal to support funding under “good neighbor” agreements that enable state and federal agencies to partner on forest management and other land-related work.

Senate Bill 6211 would create an account in the state treasury to process revenues collected under the Good Neighbor Authority agreement entered into last year between the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service.

“This legislation addresses our forest health crisis and accelerates forest restoration, putting revenue from thinning unhealthy trees back into forest restoration projects, enhancing habitat and creating jobs,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who signed the GNA in March 2017.

“DNR has projects ready to go, and the bipartisan effort led by Senator Hawkins will let us get to work building healthier, more resilient forests across all of Washington,” said Franz.

The Senate accepted a floor amendment, offered by Hawkins, to allow the bill to take effect upon the governor’s signature (rather than waiting the standard 90 days from the end of the legislative session) so that DNR will have immediate authority to process revenues and authorize expenditures under the program.

“Today’s vote is another example of how the Legislature and DNR recognize the important connection between improving the health of our forests and reducing the risk of megafires,” said Hawkins, who serves the 12th Legislative District. “Fire doesn’t care whether it burns federal land or state land, so getting the funding flowing for this partnership is an important step.”

Hawkins said the bill complements the 2017 law created by his Senate Bill 5546, inspired by the Wenatchee-based Wildfire Project, which directs DNR to establish a framework for assessing the health of fire-prone lands and treating them. The stakeholder-driven policy sets a specific goal of assessing and treating 1 million acres over 16 years, most likely through prescribed fire and mechanical thinning.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives and its Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for further consideration.