State and federal agencies promise greater collaboration ahead of wildfire season

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Washington residents and forestland owners can anticipate greater collaboration between state and federal agencies on forest health-related issues. USDA Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary FranzWashington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind and Regional Forester Glenn Casamassa signed a “Shared Stewardship” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week that aims to improve the health and resiliency of forestlands for the sake of reducing wildfires, providing wildlife habitat and ensuring clean water.

“The challenges we face transcend boundaries,” said Chief Christiansen“This agreement strengthens and advances an already strong partnership between federal and state agencies in Washington state. Working together, we can ensure that we’re doing the right work at the right scale to improve forest health, reduce wildfire risk, and benefit local communities.”

The MOU establishes a framework for the state and the US Forest Service to collectively work together on shared priorities, coordinate resources and carry out projects throughout Washington state. Noting that the MOU is just the second of its kind in the U.S., agency directors called the shared stewardship partnership a national model for other states to follow.

“Washington’s fish and wildlife are facing real challenges,” said WDFW Director Susewind. “Large-scale collaborations like this are critical if we are to preserve our native species. It is encouraging to have three of the state’s largest land stewards come together in this new agreement and work more effectively to promote healthy wildlife and ecosystems in Washington.”

According to the news release from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the MOU would provide the following:

  • Under this Shared Stewardship strategy, agencies will focus on forest and watershed restoration projects that improve ecosystem health, reduce wildfire risks, and benefit fish and wildlife habitat, among other priorities.
  • The “Shared Stewardship” MOU is just the second of its kind in the nation, serving as a model for other states. Idaho was the first state to sign such an agreement (December of 2018).
  • The MOU builds on strong, existing partnerships, such as the Good Neighbor Authority agreement between DNR and USFS. Signed in 2017, the Good Neighbor Authority allows DNR to conduct forest health work on federal lands. A Good Neighbor Authority agreement with WDFW signed in January this year provides additional opportunities.
  • The agreement supports Washington state goals and existing plans, such as DNR’s 20-Year Forest Health Strategic Plan, which will restore the health of 1.25 million acres of federal, state, private, and tribal forest.
  • By working together, the agencies will maximize resources and create the efficiencies needed to return Washington’s forest health, which is a cornerstone to healthy wildlife habitat and clean water.
  • This partnership creates a unified voice on issues before Congress and the state Legislature.

“Wildfire, forest health, and habitat loss are not issues that respect property lines,” said Commissioner Franz. “To truly tackle our wildfire and forest health crisis, at the pace and scale this crisis demands, we need a strong partnership between Washington state and the USDA Forest Service. This agreement ensures that our response will be unified, well-coordinated, and deliver maximum benefit for the people.”