Signing of Hawkins’ bill supports move toward healthier forests

OLYMPIA…Today Gov. Jay Inslee became the latest supporter of Sen. Brad Hawkins’ plan for improving the health of Washington’s forests as a way to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Inslee signed Senate Bill 5546, which won unanimous approval from the Legislature. Hawkins’ bill grew out of community conversations that followed the 2014 and 2015 “megafires” in the part of north central Washington he represents.

“We are learning the importance of being more proactive when it comes to wildfires,” said Hawkins. “I would rather invest more time and resources into restoring the health of our forests and treating the conditions that enable megafires than continue paying the incredible costs of fire suppression and suffer through the devastating economic and personal impacts of these wildfires. This new law combines long-term planning and short-term action in a way that puts us on a clear path to that goal.”

Hawkins, who serves the 12th Legislative District, said he was pleased so many people and groups with a stake in the issue were able to attend today’s ceremony.

“I’m grateful for the support from the governor, commissioner of public lands, and my legislative co-sponsors who made a point of being with us this morning. I am also especially thankful for the collaborative efforts of so many stakeholders – the dedicated local leaders from the Wildfire Project, the Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy and others who attended the bill signing. This moment would not have come without their commitment.”

The law created by Hawkins’ bipartisan bill 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.

SB 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. The other two bills were signed yesterday. The three new laws take effect 90 days after the Legislature concludes its regular session, which will be no later than Sunday.

Hawkins’ legislation 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.