Those who own private forestland in rural areas of Washington now have a quicker way to get financial help and advice from forest health experts after a state agency launched a comprehensive online tool for landowners on Tuesday.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources launched the Landowner Assistance Portal in hopes the tool will help rural property owners know for which assistance programs they qualify and how to best keep their private land healthy for both humans and wildlife.
“This new tool is a one-stop shop for private forestland owners in Washington,” Hilary Franz, Department of Natural Resources commissioner of public lands, said. “We are making transformational investments in our landowners assistance programs with the goal of keeping Washington the Evergreen State. Easier access to information on forest health, stewardship and wildfire prevention will help landowners protect their homes and forests.”
Small forest private landowners in southwest Washington are defined as those who own fewer than 5,000 acres of rural land, said Natalie Johnson, forest practices communications manager at the Department of Natural Resources.
The portal includes information on tree farm health, how to get burn permits and financial assistance for forest restoration. The site also includes educational tools for landowners to learn about forest taxes and general best practices to keeping private rural land healthy.
The tool marks another step to expand Department of Natural Resources’ Service Forestry program, as the Pacific Northwest continues to face the earliest effects of a warming climate that has placed its forests in a precarious position.
Wildfires are not as common in southwest Washington, tending to keep to the eastern side of Oregon and Washington, but Johnson said preparing for wildfire risk is becoming more of a priority on the west side.
Historically, west-side wildfires happened naturally and spanned longer cycles that would manage overgrowth. Johnson said the west side has not seen these naturally occurring burns in a while, and it has resulted in unhealthy forests.
“Our forests aren’t in the best position to be resilient to wildfires when they do happen,” Johnson said.
Cowlitz County’s burn ban will stay in effect until Sept. 30. The Department of Natural Resources considers most of Washington state, including southwest Washington, to have a moderate fire risk because of the tendency for fires to start and spread rapidly. For September, the department has placed the region at normal when it comes to wildfire risk.
The Department of Natural Resources has recently pushed to bring forest health to the forefront, recently relaunching its prescribed burn program in hopes it will offset the effects of a major, uncontrolled wildfire.
In July, the agency fought 160 fires across the state and 149 in August, according to its wildfire watch map.
The department also plans on expanding the Service Forestry program in Western Washington as a way to be proactive about future environmental concerns, the news release said.
It’s not only fire that private forest landowners should prepare for, Johnson said. Everyday concerns about invasive insects and plants, replacing culverts, how to plan for wildlife coming onto the property and getting agency technical services are also attached to the portal.
Johnson said the Department of Natural Resources website already included these services, but the portal will make it easier for a resident to access.
“If you’re a small forest landowner, you probably qualify for technical assistance and financial assistance,” Johnson said. “If you don’t think you qualify, you might be surprised.”
Part of the funding for the Landowner Assistance Portal came from a state law passed this year that created about two dozen new positions in support of homeowners living in rural western Washington, according to the news release.