Washington’s federal delegation brainstorms on forest policy


It’s encouraging to see Washington State political leaders gather together to figure out ways to improve forest policy. This week three members of the state’s federal delegation got together in two separate gatherings.

In the first, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (Democrat) and U.S. Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Republican) didn’t let their political differences stand in the way of their meeting with forest stakeholders in Spokane.

“We want to make more headway on how we fight these (forest) fires,” Cantwell said. “We want to make sure we are doing the work in advance — the fuel reduction and modernization that will help us be better prepared for the future.”

The discussion included finding additional funding sources for the U.S. Forest Service, enlisting and training volunteer firefighters throughout the year and improving equipment and communications.

The U.S. House also has legislation that could help lead to more active forest management, McMorris Rodgers noted.

McMorris Rodgers said the House passed HR 2647, the Resilient Forests Act, which would put funding for fighting fires under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Firefighting funds currently come from the forest management budget, meaning that activities such as thinning are curtailed. The Senate will consider the bill next, she said.

“We need to get some legislation on the president’s desk,” she said. “Clearly with the larger catastrophic fires that we’ve seen, there’s some urgency attached to this. We need to keep raising awareness and making sure Congress recognizes that they need to take action.”

In the second gathering, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met in Aberdeen to promote the benefits of forest collaboratives.

The meeting at Sierra Pacific Industries came after a tour of the facility and was followed by a press conference, where Kilmer discussed the importance of collaboration among players from both timber harvesting industries and forest conservation advocates.

The gathering centered on Kilmer’s Olympic Peninsula Collaborative, an initiative he announced in late 2013 and officially launched in May 2015. The collaborative aims to organize representatives from both groups in an effort to see past their competing interests and work together on making the area’s forests sustainable.

“The fact is, driving rural economic development matters,” Kilmer said, kicking off the press conference. “That’s why we’ve put together this collaborative in the first place, to try to embrace both the value of our forests for job creation, but also in terms of maintaining that forest health.”

Like the meeting with Cantwell and McMorris Rodgers, the Aberdeen meeting included stakeholders from various groups.

Accompanying Kilmer and Vilsack were people from throughout the Peninsula and from a variety of groups and companies, including Sierra Pacific President George Emmerson, Connie Gallant, president of the Olympic Forest Coalition and Matt Comisky, Washington state manager of the American Forest Resource Council.

“It’s a good opportunity to work together, build trust, and out of that should hopefully come a lot of good benefits from the community at large, not only from an economic standpoint with providing jobs for the families that live in these communities, but on into the future,” Comisky said. “We’re not just talking about today’s generation. A lot of the industry folks who are engaged here, they want to be around another 50, 100 years, so we need to build that sustainability.”

Vilsack said the collaboration serves as a good model for how industries that seem to compete could help further one another’s growth.

“I think this is an example of what needs to be done more of in this country,” he said. “You’ve got competing interests, that have in the past … basically stymied each other. They have gone into courtrooms and they have fought out lengthy court battles, despite the fact that they have a shared interest and shared value, which is to have a sustainable forest.”