COLUMN: Healthy Forests are the Key to Wildfire Prevention

February 17, 2020
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

In Central Washington, we understand that healthy forests are the true key to wildfire prevention. Each summer, we come face-to-face with the threat wildfires pose to our land, our communities, and our health.

We are blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the world, surrounded by national forests and public lands. Unfortunately, decades of mismanagement and misguided funding have prevented the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) or the many engaged forest collaboratives in our region from properly caring for our lands. I have committed to the people of Central Washington that I will continue to work to change that in Congress.

By engaging with stakeholders and promoting local conservation efforts, the federal government can lessen the severity and the costs of wildfires. Accountable and transparent public land management is a critical issue for landowners, farmers, and businesses here at home and throughout the West.

I recently sat down with Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen to discuss how the USFS is working to promote these efforts, from ensuring their workforce is well-staffed with professional wildfire fighters to strengthening the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Corps curriculum to administer the USFS mission. I have worked to ensure the North Cascades Smokejumper Base – the birthplace of the U.S. smokejumping program – remains in Winthrop, and I have witnessed the local, state, tribal, and federal resources being devoted to wildfire prevention and mitigation at the fire base in Omak. I invited Chief Christiansen to visit our District to see our collaborative management efforts firsthand.

As we work to address the catastrophic wildfires that rage across the country, we also must improve the overall health of our national forests and take advantage of the benefits that come from preserving and utilizing our natural resources.

My friend, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), is the only forester in Congress. He has strongly advocated for active land management as a way to improve the health of our forests and keep our lands safe from the threats of catastrophic wildfires, and he truly has been a leader amongst my colleagues.

Rep. Westerman recently introduced the Trillion Trees Act, which aims to plant one trillion trees by 2050 and incentivize the use of wood products as a means of carbon sequestration. The bill is based on a report by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science which concluded that planting one trillion trees across the world could sequester 205 gigatonnes of carbon – the rough equivalent of two-thirds of all man-made carbon since the Industrial Revolution. As President Trump pointed out in his State of the Union address, not only does this proposal aim to increase conservation of our existing resources, but it provides a science-based climate solution. By taking care of our forests, we can reduce carbon and protect our environment.

We can – and should – work together to find bipartisan ways to properly manage our forests, revitalize rural economies, and reduce our impact on the environment. Legislation like the Trillion Trees Act does exactly that.

I will continue to promote active management and wildfire prevention, so we can preserve the national forests and public lands we are all so proud of in Central Washington.