Wildfire prevention and forest management bill passes state House

‘In the end, homes, land, and lives will be saved because of this legislation,” says Kretz

Legislation passed the Washington State House of Representatives this week that would help prevent and fight devastating wildfires.

House Bill 1168 passed the House unanimously and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda and cosponsor of the bill, called it a milestone in his years’ long effort to protect his constituents from the continuing devastation of massive wildfires.

“We average about $153 million per year in firefighting costs that will continue to go up if we do nothing,” said Kretz, whose legislative district in northeast Washington has seen some of the state’s worst wildfires over the past six years. “However, there will be a much larger cost to our rural communities if we do nothing. While some regions have suffered through the majority of our major fires, most every city and town in our state has experienced the harmful effects of bad air quality as a result of catastrophic wildfire smoke. This bill is a solution that will help all Washingtonians.”

Kretz worked across the aisle and with Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to see the bill through the legislative process on the House side. He’s hopeful that because the bill passed unanimously in the House, the Senate will look favorably on a bill “whose time has come,” said Kretz.

House Bill 1168 is a multi-pronged approach to preventing and responding to wildfires. It creates a dedicated account of about $125 million every biennium. The money would be spent on management and restoration efforts to make forests more fire resilient, like reducing fuel loads and creating firebreaks to stop swift moving fires.

Money would also be spent on upgrading existing equipment, hire and train more firefighters, and improve leadership and fire detection systems.

Wildfires burned over a million acres in 2015. In 2020, the Department of Natural Resources responded to more than 1,850 wildfires, more than any year this decade.

Kretz said he knows families in his district living in trailers who have not fully recovered from the 2015 wildfires. As part of his efforts to educate his legislative colleagues on the long-lasting effects of the fires, he invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers in 2019 to visit northeast Washington and see the devastation firsthand.

One of those legislators in attendance was Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, who ended up cosponsoring the bill with Kretz. The two legislators were able to work with Franz to bring everyone to the table at the beginning of the process to work out major issues.

“We live in a very politicized world right now,” said Kretz. “But I think this legislation is an example of what can be done when we leave politics and egos at the door, and take into account what the people on the ground need, first and foremost.

“This may be the most important, impactful piece of legislation I’ve worked on in my entire legislative career,” said Kretz. “The fact is, it couldn’t have been done without assistance from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. This has been a collaborative process from the beginning. In the end, homes, land, and lives will be saved as a result of this legislation.”

The 105-day 2021 remote legislative session is scheduled to end April 25.

Photo Caption: “Rep. Joel Kretz meets with Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to discuss wildfire prevention and response efforts.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov