The surge of smoke-filled skies that covered much of the state this summer points out the importance of effective forest management. During her first term as commissioner of public lands, Hilary Franz has consistently pushed for better administration of those lands and more effective preparation for when a fire breaks out. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends her for election to a second term.
As always, this is merely a recommendation designed to foster discussion. The Columbian urges voters to examine the candidates and the issues before casting an informed ballot.
In Franz, voters will find a tireless advocate for a forward-thinking approach to preventing and suppressing wildfires that have become an increasing concern to residents throughout the state. As was starkly demonstrated in September, wildfires are a threat to lives and livelihoods on both sides of the Cascades; no region of the state is immune from the impacts of poor management and climate change.
“We have a forest health crisis in this state,” Franz said during a remote interview with the editorial board.
To combat that, Franz has worked with the Legislature to develop 10- and 20-year management plans. She has worked with federal officials to collaboratively improve federally owned forests. And she has positioned firefighting equipment to better attack blazes quickly.
Notably, the Department of Natural Resources that she oversees has treated 150,000 acres of forests to improve their health and reduce the amount of fuel for a fire. In the previous seven years, according to Franz, the department treated a total of 30,000 acres.
In a state that has about 3 million acres of state-owned forestland, those numbers indicate the vast work that remains to be done. In addition, nearly half of Washington’s forestland is federally owned, requiring cooperation with the federal government.
That is one area in which Republican challenger Sue Kuehl Pederson disagrees with the Democratic incumbent. She told the editorial board that the federal government can take care of federal forests. But because fires know no boundaries, that sounds like a self-defeating proposal.
Another difference can be found in Kuehl Pederson’s comment about climate change: “The panic over climate change is so ill-founded because the climate is always changing.” Instead, she frequently mentioned a federal decision to protect the northern spotted owl in the 1980s and blamed that for poor forest management.
There is some validity to that assertion, but decrying decisions from nearly 40 years ago will not help Washington address modern issues in a forward-thinking manner. Franz has a broader grasp of the issues facing Washington’s forests, and validation for her views can be found in the Legislature ramping up the department’s wildfire funding to $50 million for the current biennium.
In addition, Franz recognizes her fiduciary duty to the state. The Department of Natural Resources provides about $200 million a year to counties and $125 million to schools, mostly in rural areas that often are in dire need of the funding. She has worked to expand that capability, approving leases for wind farms and solar farms on state land. She also is working on improving access to broadband internet in rural areas, which can help modernize local economies.
On many levels, Franz has worked to make Washington’s forests work for Washington residents. The Columbian Editorial Board recommends her for another term as public lands commissioner.