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Catastrophic, sweeping wildfires are anything but natural.

Working Forests Action Network

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As predicted, it was another hot summer across Washington.

On top of high temps, drought conditions prompted a rare statewide burn ban.

Washingtonians pulled together --- we did what we could in the moment to try and prevent a repeat of last year’s devastating and historic wildfires.

In the end, the fires raged as fierce as they ever have --- lives were lost in the battles to subdue them.

Hundreds of thousands of acres burned, including some 25,000 acres of wildlife land in Okanogan and Chelan Counties alone. Losses to state, federal, tribal, and privately owned forests are still being calculated.

Has enough been done to lessen the risk of catastrophic, runaway wildfires on private, state, and particularly federally managed lands?

One place to start: fix a glitch in the federal budget that is unintentionally feeding a “vicious cycle.” The problem: funds to fight wildfires are drawn away from U.S. Forest Service programs designed to prevent wildfires.

This week, Congressman Dan Newhouse of Yakima called for swift action on the floor of the U.S. House. From the Spokesman-Review:

The nation needs to find a better way to pay for fighting fires and stop borrowing from money set aside for forest thinning and rehabilitation, said a Washington congressman whose district is being scorched by fires this summer.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Yakima, became the first member of the state’s delegation to address the issue this week as Congress returns from its summer recess. In a floor speech, he urged the House to pass the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would require using emergency funds to fight fires rather than taking money from the U.S. Forest Service. …

For the first time, Newhouse said, the U.S. Forest Service has spent over half of its budget to suppress wildfires and must borrow from other programs, resulting in “a vicious cycle.”

“This leads the next fire season to be worse than the last, a trend we are now experiencing in Washington, which is why it is as important as ever to pass legislation to fix this problem,” Newhouse said.

Fires themselves are a natural occurrence in the cycle of forests, but the catastrophic, sweeping wildfires that we experience today are anything but natural.

Rehabilitative forest health including selective thinning and clearing of debris on managed lands are two aspects of a smart fire mitigation plan. Depriving smaller fires of fuel before they grow into catastrophic blazes may be the key to preventing mass deforestation like what we saw in fires across the state this year, devastation that grabbed national headlines.

By working together and identifying responsible forest practices that help us contain and control blazes soon after they start, we can begin to do more to restore the balance.

Across the state, private forestland, state forests, tribal lands and federal forests share boundaries, but fires don’t respect lines on a map. We’re all in this together.

-Your Friends in Working Forests

Visit the new, improved WorkingForestsAction.org

The relationship between forest health and wildfire prevention is only a small part of an important conversation taking place about the role forests play in the world we live in.

Our new website --- workingforestsaction.org --- should be your starting point for information about the positive role modern forestry plays in our lives and the jumping off point when you want to take supportive action.

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