Wildfire funding and tree farms lead the agenda in Wash.


It was heartening this week to see not one but two op-eds published on important Washington forestry issues – the first on fighting wildfires and the second on the integral history of tree farms in the state.

State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wrote in the Seattle Times about why it’s so critical for the Legislature to approve his request for $24 million to fight wildfires during the state’s worst ever stretch of fires. In the summer months, when the fires are raging, it’s easy to garner words of encouragement about increasing the state’s wildfire budget. But once state legislators actually meet in the chilly winter, their memories grow short, Goldmark writes.

After two horrific wildfire seasons in a row, we need to prepare for the danger wildfire presents to our people, communities, forests and grasslands. Some legislators in both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee have declared willingness to increase funding. Yet, as the January rains fall in Olympia, the urgency fades for other lawmakers.

That’s dangerous. The lessons from 2014 and 2015 must shape how we prepare for future fire seasons.

I’m asking the Legislature now for $24 million to prepare our state for this fire season and beyond. This is roughly twice what Gov. Inslee proposed in his budget.

The second op-ed covers a topic unknown to most Washingtonians: the state was the site of the nation’s first certified tree farm, which was established 75 years ago in Grays Harbor County.

“It was seen as a bold move in an era that was focused on rapid development, resource exploitation and world war,” writes Elaine Oneil, executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, in the Olympian.

Today, Washington boasts 35 family-owned tree farms that have been continuously managed for sustainable forestry under the ATFS certification program for more than 50 years and an additional 204 that have been managed for more than 25 years. They are part of a cohort of small forest landowners who own nearly half the private forest land in the state.

The original focus of tree farming was to ensure a sustainable wood supply by planting trees. Simple, right? Not quite — but with 75 years of scientific research, the development of state of the art nursery practices, and the sustained trial and error effort of many forest landowners, we know how to grow trees exceptionally well.

The anniversary is so notable that WFFA and other forestry organizations are celebrating the moment today in Olympia. This will include a proclamation from Goldmark about the 75-year anniversary.

In celebration of this 75 year milestone and the many benefits of tree farming, Thursday (Jan. 21) is Tree Farm Day in Olympia. We kick off festivities with a 75th Anniversary of Sustainable Forestry Proclamation Ceremony at noon in the Capitol Rotunda. The event is hosted by the Washington Tree Farm Program, Washington Farm Forestry Association, and Washington DNR Small Forest Landowner Office.

For more information about the 75th anniversary and the history of tree farms, the American Tree Farm System has some great background online.