Restoring and Strengthening Our Forests

Hilary Franz
Hilary Franz, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands

As we saw this the year, and as the deadly wildfires in California remind us, aggressive wildfires are our new norm. Fortunately, we were able to keep 96 percent of our fires to less than 10 acres — a credit to our brave friends and neighbors who confront these firestorms. But despite our best efforts, it wasn’t enough. The simple truth is that we cannot fight our way out of these fires — we must prevent them. And we prevent forest fires by improving forest health.

That’s why this year we launched the 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan for Eastern Washington. This first-of-its-kind plan provides a framework for systematic forest restoration and management that will accelerate the pace and scale of forest treatments so we can restore forest health and make our lands more resistant to wildfire.

The Forest Health Strategic Plan is bold and can only be accomplished through innovative partnerships, which will include private forestland owners, small and large.

My concerns are not limited to our eastside forests; climate change threatens the productivity of lands on both sides of the Cascades. That’s why in early January, I outlined Four Resilience Principles of a smart carbon reduction policy:

  1. Tackle the root cause – carbon pollution – and invest in reduction efforts
  2. Strengthen the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities
  3. Accelerate carbon sequestration
  4. Invest in and incentivize solutions with multiple benefits

For our forests, for example, this means investing in programs that keep working forests working and maximize the carbon stored in trees and soils. It means incentivizing property owners to preserve forestland and not convert it to other uses. It means investments to grow forest management jobs, improve soil moisture storage, increase timber value, sustain timber production, and increase resistance to wildfire and insects. And it means minimizing the unintended effects of carbon policies on residents and trade-intensive industries such as timber and agriculture.

By restoring and strengthening our working forests, by making investments to ensure they are resilient to climate change, we create economic security for the individuals and communities that depend on these lands. I look forward to working with you on this important effort.