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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Forest managers: Fire mitigation efforts could fall behind if federal shutdown continues

Forest managers worry that projects  in federal forests across Washington,  such as the Colville National Forest seen here, could fall behind schedule or not happen at all if the federal shutdown continues. (Steve Ringman / AP)

The state of Washington’s forest managers are waiting anxiously for the federal government to reopen.

If it doesn’t, projects on federal forestland across Washington could fall behind schedule and risk not happening at all, said Trevor McConchie, the federal lands manager for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

“We’re OK right at this moment,” he said. “If we extend much longer it will become an issue.”

The DNR partners with the federal government to log trees on selected portions of national forest. Known as the Good Neighbor Authority, the goal is to reduce wildfire risk, promote forest health and provide an economic boost in rural areas.

However, all projects have to go through the National Environmental Policy Act review, among other steps. Normally, McConchie said, DNR works closely with the federal government to ensure that each step of the process is being followed correctly.

That isn’t happening with federal employees furloughed.

“Never in any point in time should DNR be running stuff without the federal partners at our side,” McConchie said. “The longer we work on a project without touching base it makes it more risky for us. Because we need to know that we’re in line.”

Statewide, 17 projects are cued up, he said, with many scheduled to be completed in 2019.

If the shutdown continues for another month, the projects could be pushed into the heart of fire season and would not be able to move forward this year.

“It’s a really tight window between April and July,” he said. “If you push that out a month it does have a big impact.”