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'Historic agreement' partners DNR, Forest Service to prep for fire season

A “historic agreement,” known as the Good Neighbor Authority, will allow the U.S. Forest Service to contract the Department of Natural Resources to better prepare federal land for fire season.

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A “historic agreement,” known as the Good Neighbor Authority, will allow the U.S. Forest Service to contract the Department of Natural Resources to better prepare federal land for fire season.

This year DNR will spend around $10 million to treat state land. The agency says around 2.7 million acres of Washington forest is in poor health. However, almost half of that total is federal land, and DNR does not have jurisdiction to manage it.

And wildfires across the country have taken a toll on the U.S. Forest Service Budget.

“That has had an impact on our ability to deal with some of the forest health issues, just from a capacity stand point,” Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Jim Pena said. “We don’t have the same budget or personnel to deal with it that we did 10 or 15 years ago.”

So Friday the two sides signed the Good Neighbor agreement, a “memorandum of understanding” allowing the U.S. Forest Service to contract DNR to treat their land. Both sides say public funds will be used more effectively and efficiently because of the deal.

DNR will now be able to get federal funding to manage federal land if the Forest Service contracts with the state agency. DNR would likely be charged with treating and preparing that land for fire season through prescribed burns, selective thinning and cleaning debris. The agency would also help maintain the health of the forest, which has been compromised by the spread of disease and beetles.

DNR also plans to contract with timber companies to turn that unhealthy forest into profit.

“We will now be able to actually increase the supply of timber products to our mills and increase the number of jobs in those communities that have significantly impacted in the reduction of forest product and timber harvest,” Commissioner Franz said.

“If we’re already on the ground and we have that technical resource and expertise and investment and infrastructure, let’s be able to cross state lands, move onto federal land, and also do it in a much more holistic, landscape sale,” Franz added.

DNR says any profit from that timber sale will go back into forest projects. DNR hopes to make Washington forests safer come summer.

DNR says the state has spent more than $500 million on wildfire fights and recovery during the past three years.

DNR currently has two budget requests into the Washington State Legislature. DNR has requested $13 million for wildfire management, including expanding their crew and improving equipment. It has also requested $25 million for forest health.

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