2019 Legislative Session Update: Bills supporting healthy, working forests advance

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With the 2019 legislative session beyond the halfway mark, now is a good time look at what bills affecting forestland owners are still under consideration. Wildfire prevention, investments to promote healthy forests and policies in support of working forests were just some of the legislation that Olympia lawmakers have focused on this 105-day session. Below are updates on some of the bills that have been covered in One Voice for Working Forests blogs.

Working forests and real estate disclosure statements: The House unanimously passed HB 1011 in early March, which would require disclosure statements for sales of properties near working forests and where forestry practices may occur. The bill now is in the Senate and awaits a second reading within the Rules Committee.

Supporters of the bill say suburban and rural areas have experienced increased development pressure, bringing new residents into areas historically dominated by working forests. HB 1011 fills a gap by notifying new residents about the 2009 Right to Farm Act, which in essence ensures that working forests are allowed to continue in the face of population growth. The Act prevents a person from suing a working forest for simply being a working forest after they have moved next to one, and this bill ensures that all residential buyers know of that protection. Sponsors of HB 1011 include Reps. Kristine Reeves (D-Federal Way), Andrew Barkis (R-Lacey), Christine Kilduff (D-University Place), and Brandon Vick (R-Felida).

Fuel breaks: The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks is scheduled to discuss 2SHB 1784 at 1:30 pm on April 2nd 1:30 PM. This follows the House approving 2SHB 1784 in mid-March. Supporters of 2SHB 1784 say the bill would build upon the state’s Department of Natural Resources forest health assessment framework that would include thinning a million acres of land and installing fuel breaks to reduce the spread of wildfire from flammable vegetation by 2033. Sponsors of 2SHB 1784 include Reps. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) and Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley).

Dedicating funding for wildfire and forest health: The Washington Department of Natural Resources announced this week that Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Senate Democrats have introduced a bill that would establish a dedicated revenue source to fund wildfire suppression and prevention. SB 5996 would increase the tax on insurance premiums for property and casualty insurance from 2 percent to 2.52 percent to raise an estimated $62.5 million a year.

Supporters of the bill say the investment is needed to address the increasing threat of wildfires. Once predominant in Eastern Washington, wildfires have become a statewide problem. Last year, the Department of Natural Resources responded to more than 1,850 wildfires and 40 percent of those fires occurred west of the Cascades. So far this spring, the state has reported 50 wildfires with 49 in Western Washington. One fire in Cowlitz County forced the evacuation of 90 homes.

Sponsors of SB 5996 include Sens. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island),David Frockt (D-Seattle), Andy Billig (D-Spokane), Karen Keiser (D-Kent) and Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood).