Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is not seeking a third term, and his announcement has sparked a competitive race to replace him. The five candidates we interviewed all seem to agree on the challenges facing the new leader: Find the resources the department needs to actively manage fire risks, conduct more productive timber harvests, boost workforce morale and improve communications.
The candidates agree that community outreach and internal communication were not Goldmark’s strengths. The Department of Natural Resources has been beat up over the recent wildfire seasons, and morale is low. Fresh leadership is on the way, but shoring up the agency won’t be easy.
To conduct the kind of wildfire prevention all of the candidates tout, the agency will need money. Problem is, the next legislative session will be consumed with finding sustainable funding for basic education. Extracting dollars for the DNR will require legislative savvy.
Each candidate was passionate and knowledgeable, but we think experience within the agency and around the Legislature will be crucial. For those reasons, we’re recommending two candidates to advance to the general election: Mary Verner and Dave Upthegrove.
Verner is the only candidate from Eastern Washington, and she has the best grasp for how decisions made in Olympia impact areas east of the Cascades. She was the mayor of Spokane and a city councilwoman.
Goldmark hired her three years ago as deputy supervisor for wildfire and administration, and she wants to take the lessons from previous wildfire seasons to improve the agency’s performance and strengthen partnerships with local fire districts. She points to the Eastern Washington Interagency Wildfire Training Academy, which recently held a firefighting camp in Deer Park, as the kind of cooperative effort the state needs.
DNR needs more money to actively manage overgrown forests, and Verner knows that will be a tough request. She would like for lawmakers to review the annual assessment paid by private timberland owners for state wildfire preparedness. It doesn’t come close to covering costs.
Dave Upthegrove is a member of the King County Council and a former legislator, serving as chair of the House Environment Committee. He was an author of legislation that created the the Puget Sound Partnership, an agency charged with keeping those waters economically and environmentally sound.
Upthegrove has a reputation for bringing diverse parties together to solve tough issues. He has the backing of former Gov. Chris Gregoire and many current and former legislators. He already has the relationships needed to extract more money from the Legislature. All of the talk about sustainable harvests and more aggressive land management will be meaningless without more money.
Hilary Franz, Karen Porterfield and Steve McLaughlin, the lone Republican, are all solid on the issues and well-versed on the leadership needs.
It’s a tough call, but we like Verner’s experience and Eastern Washington roots and Upthegrove’s combination of conservation achievement and legislative experience.
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