SB 5546

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

As of February 9, 2017

Title: An act relating to proactively addressing wildfire risk by creating a forest health treatment assessment.

Brief Description: Concerning proactively addressing wildfire risk by creating a forest health treatment assessment.

Sponsors: Senators Hawkins, McCoy, Fortunato, Pearson, Braun, Sheldon, Rivers and O'Ban.

Brief History:

Committee Activity: Natural Resources & Parks: 2/09/17.

Brief Summary of Bill

  • Directs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct an assessment of fire-prone lands in need of forest health treatments.

  • Creates a biennial evaluation and reporting process on implementation of the forest health assessment.


Staff: Curt Gavigan (786-7437)

Background: Department of Natural Resources' Fire and Forest Heath Authority. DNR has direct charge of and supervision over all matters pertaining to the forest fire service of the state, specifically including the work of suppressing forest fires. Additionally, in 2007 the Legislature designated the Department of Natural Resources as the state lead in developing a comprehensive forest health program for the state and created a tiered advisory and regulatory system to address forest health issues.

Fire and Forest Health in Washington. A 2014 report from DNR identified approximately 2.7 million acres of eastern Washington forestland in need of forest health treatment or disturbance, such as thinning or prescribed fire. Washington has experienced record-setting fires seasons in recent years, with approximately 380,000 acres burned in 2014 and over 1 million acres burned in 2015. Most recently, the 2016 fires season saw 294,000 acres burned in the state.

Summary of Bill: Directs a Forest Health Treatment Assessment. DNR must develop a statewide assessment of fire-prone lands in need of forest health treatments, such as through prescribed fire or mechanical treatment. The scope of the assessment includes state-protected lands as well as other lands that pose a high risk to lands protected by DNR. Components of the assessment include:

DNR must work in collaboration with specified governments, stakeholders, and other interested parties.

Creates a Biennial Evaluation and Reporting Process on Implementation of the Forest Health Assessment. A biennial evaluation and reporting process is established, which requires DNR to provide by October 1st of each even-numbered year:

Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Available.

Creates Committee/Commission/Task Force that includes Legislative members: No.

Effective Date: Ninety days after adjournment of session in which bill is passed.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony: PRO: There is a need to shift thinking around wildfire and move from being reactive to proactive. There are major problems in the forests as evidenced by high number of acres burned in recent years. DNR has taken steps towards the process outlined here, but embedding it in statute will ensure follow through. Agencies and stakeholders will continue discussions with continued work around funding and a number of process details. If setting priorities are necessary, the assessment could begin on public lands.

Persons Testifying: PRO: Senator Brad Hawkins, Prime Sponsor; Tom Bugert, The Nature Conservancy; Mitch Friedman, Conservation NW; Dave Warren, Department of Natural Resources; Loren Torgerson, Department of Natural Resources; Mary Verner, Department of Natural Resources; Dawn Vyvyan, Yakama Nation; Jason Callahan, Washington Forest Protection Association; Heith Heikkala, American Forest Resource Council.

Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying: No one.