Now that the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has assessed the health of eastern Washington forestland, State Forester George Geissler says it’s time to examine forestland west of the Cascades that may be vulnerable to land conversion. That analysis will be included as part of a 2020 update to the State Forest Action Plan.
Forest action plans are required of all states under federal law as a result of the 2008 farm bill. Plans are a holistic analysis of all state forestland, the associated challenges and proposed solutions to maintain and preserve those areas. Washington’s first action plan assessing its 22 million acres of forestland in the state was finished in 2010. Since then, DNR has released a 20-year forest health plan and a 10-year wildland fire protection strategic plan.
“The unique thing about Washington is we have the two strategies already, so we’re part of the way down the road,” Geissler said.
The forest action plans are also necessary for states to receive grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the 2018 fiscal year, the state received almost $13 million for cooperative forestry programs that help communities mitigate wildfire risk and reduce the rate of forestland conversion to other uses. In some cases, those programs depend almost entirely on USDA funding.
While much of the focus in recent years has been on wildfire risk on the east side, Geissler said that on the west side a big issue is the conversion of working forests. A study approved this year by the state legislature will determine how much forestland has gone away since the 1999 Forests and Fish Law was passed. Along with a loss of working forests, changes in the landscape can also affect wildfire behavior or require different firefighting strategies due to the wildland-urban interface.
“We already know it’s (land conversion) occurring and we would have to figure out (how) to mitigate it,” Geissler said.
Forest Action Plan Coordinator Andrew Spaeth told Lens that previous scientific research has already given the state agency “a pretty clear picture” of the challenges facing Washington forestland such as invasive species, disease, drought and wildfire.
“It’s an opportunity for us to think about our current strategies to address those threats,” he added. “How are we within the department, and with partners like the Forest Service and WDFW, strategically delivering services and pursuing those strategies that is going to actually make a meaningful difference? The forest action plan is really that: How we strategically address these threats to forests in a way that is more coordinated and efficient?”
Geissler will submit an updated forest action plan to the USFS for approval by June 2020.