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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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State lands commissioner talks conservation, climate change at Dishman Hills

Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, is interviewed by Jeff Lambert, executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy, on Sept. 20 at Camp Caro. (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, is interviewed by Jeff Lambert, executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy, on Sept. 20 at Camp Caro. (Emma Epperly / The Spokesman-Review)

Over 60 people crowded into a little log building at the Dishman Hills Natural Area on Friday night to hear Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz layout her plan to improve the state’s forest health.

Just hours earlier, students across the globe, including a large group in Spokane and a smaller group in Moscow, participated in a strike for the climate inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. And as Franz spoke, some of the same topics, including climate change and conservancy, came up.

“I will just say right from the get go, we’re literally on the front lines every single day. It’s a rapidly changing climate,” Franz said.

The Department of Natural Resources completed a climate risk assessment on all six million acres of land it manages to identify the impacts climate change has already made.

“How do we make those lands more resilient? Because our job is to manage them inter-generationally, not just for the people who are here today,” Franz said.

The importance of that job resonated with Jeff Lambert, executive director of the nonprofit Dishman Hills Conservancy.

“With the climate change issues, it’s important we work together on the state and local level,” Lambert said.

The Dishman Hills Conservancy, which was established in 1966, has the longest partnership with the Department of Natural Resources of any state conservancy. The partnership covers 3,000 acres of land that DNR and the conservancy are actively working to expand.

“DNR is one of our best partners,” Lambert said.

He was quick to praise DNR and its firefighters for their role in minimizing wildfires during what was a “pleasant summer.” Lambert’s praise didn’t stop there. He was also excited to hear from Franz about her statewide plans geared towards sustainability and forest health.

“Scarcity always increases appreciation of any asset,” Lambert said of natural lands.

Franz was elected in 2016 and, as the head of DNR, has been a vocal advocate for funding preventative forest health measures statewide.

“I think what’s really fascinating about Spokane right now is you’ve got one of the more populated communities, and it has a growing economy,” Franz said. “You also have a signification forest health issue right within your city and then it expands outward.”

Franz discussed specific plans to work on creating a healthy forest on both private and public lands through cleaning up the forest floor to removing low-hanging dead branches to prevent canopy fires.

One attendee, Anjel Tomayko, asked about the wildland-urban interface, a term that describes the places where forest land and urban development meet.

Tomayko became a firefighter in 2014 and immediately started working for DNR but had a bad experience.

“The relationships were very strained between the different agencies,” Tomayko said.

She maintained her passion for forest health and bridging the gap in service between urban and rural areas but worked for other agencies. Then, in January, Tomayko decided to give DNR another shot.

“I’ve seen this huge shift in the ‘all hands, all lands’ mentality that we are working to share stewardship together because the forest health crisis is not going to fix itself,” Tomayko said.

One of Franz’s major goals has been to fund DNR’s 20-year forest health plan, which encourages interagency collaboration on the state, regional and local levels, she said.

Franz acknowledged that the department needs to focus resources on the wildland-urban interface, which involves working with private landowners who have to be motivated to improve their land’s health.

Franz has a litany of plans to encourage landowners to engage in an existing cost-sharing program that the Department of Natural Resources offers.

“A lot of these projects wouldn’t be happening without cost sharing,” said Paul Knowles, parks special project manager for Spokane County.

Knowles said DNR has been an important partnet for the county.

“They have a lot of eyes and ears and experts on the ground,” Knowles said of DNR.

All the partners involved in managing Dishman Hills agree that building a healthy forest doesn’t happen overnight.

Michael Hamilton, who has been the president of the conservancy for over 20 years, said the group’s goals of education, stewardship and recreation take time.

“Some things you don’t do fast,” Hamilton said. “We’re patient and we have perseverance.”

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