Call for wildfire state funding

Peter Goldmark, Washington State commissioner of public lands, requested state funding for preventing future wildfires.

REBECCA WHITE, Evergreen assistant news editor

After two record-breaking wildfire seasons, the Washington State commissioner of public lands requested $24 million in funds from the state Legislature.

The commissioner, Peter Goldmark, formerly a member of the WSU Board of Regents, presented a call to action to WSU in the CUB Tuesday.

In 2015 alone, more than 1 million acres across Washington were burned at an estimated cost of $164 million, Goldmark said. Aside from the dangers of fire, many communities, including Pullman, had extremely poor air quality from the smoke plumes of nearby wildfires.

“Some wildfires burned for many months, others burned for a very short period of time,” Goldmark said. “The takeaway from this, is when the lightning storm hit in August, we were already running out of resources.”

To combat that danger, Goldmark detailed his funding request to increase the preventative measures the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could utilize as well as increase the resources that firefighters have at their disposal.

“Resilience and preparedness are two of the best things we can work toward,” Goldmark said. “Not just looking at short term, but looking at the long term.”

The breakdown of the funding request includes $6 million to modernize local fire districts, $7 million for joint training of DNR personnel, volunteer, tribal firefighters, national guardsmen and private contractors, $3 million for coordinated fire command to stage in vulnerable communities in wildfire season, $1 million for modernizing fire communication, $443,000 for aerial attacks and $5 million for investment into wildfire prevention and fuels reduction.

“They need to have modern equipment, great safety tools and the best engines available so they can respond rapidly,” Goldmark said.

An important aspect of this funding request is the coordination, communication and training that Goldmark hopes to gain for fire personal in Washington. He said having joint training between National Guard, contractors and other local responders will increase efficiency.

“If we’re going to fight fire together, we need to train together,” Goldmark said.

Another goal Goldmark hopes to achieve is to increase mechanical treatment to forests, which essentially means removing the dead or dying trees and broken branches in living trees so when wildfires do come to an area, the flames stay on the floor of the forest.

The funding request is currently being discussed in the state Legislature and they have until March to decide.

“The commissioner is out now trying to make a case to the people,” said Sandra Kaiser, director of communications and outreach for DNR. “The legislature will follow the will of the people.”

Reporting by Rebecca White