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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Legislature unanimously approves bill to increase wildfire fighting capabilities, forest health funding

In downtown Malden, Washington, the former post office, lower left, and another historic building, lower right, still smolder Sept. 8, the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the town west of Rosalia.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – The Legislature on Thursday approved a bill to invest significant funds into forest and health and wildfire prevention.

The bill, which provides $125 million every two years for wildfire response, forest restoration and community resilience, passed unanimously in both chambers. It now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk .

Co-sponsor of the bill Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said the proposal was “long past due given the history of wildfires in the state.”

The proposal is something Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, legislators and advocates have pushed for years. The biggest question on the proposal was where funding was coming from, with some calling for a dedicated source of revenue while others called for using the general fund.

Although a final budget remains to be seen, Democrats’ proposals set aside $125 million of the state’s general fund every two years for the measure.

That money would be split into three main categories: wildfire response, forest restoration and community resilience.

For wildfire response, it would allow the state to hire 100 more firefighters and expand the air fleet. The bill would also help to fund the Department of Natural Resource’s 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which treats the state’s forests to make them more wildfire resistant. Lastly, it would help communities across the state make investments at a local level to reduce wildfire risk, such as building fuel breaks or doing prescribed burns.

After the proposal first passed in the House in March, co-sponsor Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, called this proposal “the big one that really needs to happen to make measurable impacts.”

In a statement Thursday, Franz said this bill means “reinforcements are coming.”

“In the face of an unrelenting wildfire crisis, our state is rising to meet the moment,” Franz said in a statement. “We are rejecting the notion that we must simply accept devastating fire seasons as a fact of life in Washington.”

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.