Peter Goldmark reflects on 8 years overseeing WA public lands


Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is leaving office in January after announcing earlier this year that he wouldn’t run for re-election.

His eight years in office managing 5.6 million acres of public lands gives him a unique and valuable perspective on the state of Washington’s public forests. He will speak at next week’s WFPA Annual Meeting, and he sat down last month for a wide-ranging interview with Evergreen Magazine, with forest health a major theme.

Evergreen: What has been the biggest challenge (of your time in office)?

Goldmark: Without question, the forest health-wildfire crisis in central and eastern Washington. Although the lands in question are federally-owned, the impacts are falling directly on Washington landowners, homeowners and communities that are in harm’s way. It is an enormous worry and a very expensive tragedy for our entire state.

Goldmark went on to describe the problem in more detail.

Evergreen: Earlier in this interview you said that something like 158 communities in central and eastern Washington are in harm’s way because of their close proximity to national forests that you characterized as being overstocked and overstressed. Is there some way to further quantify this crisis, maybe on a scale of one to ten?

Goldmark: Measuring annual growth against annual mortality, some east-of-the-Cascades national forests in Washington may already be in a deficit, meaning they are dying faster than they are growing. The spread of insects and disease that we observe in aerial photography is devastating, especially at higher elevations. On a scale of one to 10 – one being the worst possible condition – I would assign a rating of two to Washington national forests east of the Cascades.

Evergreen: Not a pretty pictures

Goldmark: Not a pretty picture.

Goldmark also re-visited his recent requests to the Legislature for more wildfire funding.

Evergreen: And we recall that last year you also asked the legislature for $24 million for the biennium for forest health and fire hazard reduction programs.

Goldmark: That’s correct. I only got $6.75 million, but it was still the largest such investment the state has ever made. It speaks to the twin crises we face.

Evergreen: Twin crises?

Goldmark: The forest health-wildfire crisis and our lack of firefighting capacity. We don’t have sufficient equipment or trained personnel to deal with another 2015 wildfire season, yet everything that science tells us about these fires tells us more of them are coming. Our wildfire seasons are longer; climatic and weather conditions are more extreme; wildfire behavior is more explosive and unpredictable; and, clearly, the mega-fires we are witnessing are now the norm, not the exception.