DNR: Budget failure leaves Washington forests in jeopardy

By Nicholas K. Geranios

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — The Legislature’s failure to pass a capital budget means the state Department of Natural Resources is short of money to deal with unhealthy forests, the agency director said.

The Legislature adjourned Thursday night without passing a capital budget, costing DNR $15 million to remove trees struck by insect blight, disease or drought.

“A century of mismanaged forests has clogged our forests with dead, dry and sick trees that make our summer wildfire seasons as destructive as we’ve seen in the past decade,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said Friday.

The agency needed the money to remove dead and dying trees, she said.

“The longer we wait the more we’ll pay both for the restoration and for the increasing costs of suppressing wildfires,” Franz said.

The agency has identified 2.7 million acres of Washington forests that are filled with dead and diseased trees.

Such trees are a main reason Washington has seen more destructive wildfires throughout the past decade, according to State Forester Gerry Day.

“Forests overcrowded with dead trees raise the risk of hotter and more erratic fires,” Day said.

The $15 million DNR was expecting to receive would have funded a number of forest restoration projects, including the thinning of 15,000 acres of forests in four fire-prone regions; replanting of forests that burned in recent years, and putting veterans to work on forest restoration projects.

Also in the capital budget was $7.7 million that would have allowed DNR to honor an agreement with Skagit County to preserve a portion of the Blanchard State Forest in Skagit County.

The failure to pass a capital budget also cost the DNR $5 million sought to employ Puget SoundCorps crews in environmental restoration projects.

Thursday, lawmakers adjourned their third overtime session without passing a new construction budget that would have spent more than $4 billion on projects across the state.

Lawmakers were in session for 193 days this year on what was scheduled to be a 105-day session, first because of a delay on approving a state operating budget to avert a partial government shutdown, then by a dispute over legislation aimed at overturning a recent state Supreme Court ruling known as the Hirst decision. That ruling effectively limited the use of new domestic wells in certain rural areas when it harms senior water rights.

In the wake of that ruling, some counties temporarily halted certain rural development, while others changed criteria for obtaining building permits.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he would not call lawmakers back for another overtime session unless they have a firm plan that will lead to a vote on the capital budget.

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