National

Will more thinning, controlled burns save Washington state forests?

An airplane tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfire north of Twisp, Washington, on Aug. 21, 2015.
An airplane tanker drops fire retardant on a wildfire north of Twisp, Washington, on Aug. 21, 2015.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell says that nearly 2 million acres of forest land in her home state of Washington is at high risk of dying from new wildfires.

As a solution, she wants Congress to allow more thinning and controlled burns as a way to protect the forests.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell is a key player in shaping the federal government’s response to the growing threat of wildfires.

67 millionThe number of acres of forest land in western states that is in danger from wildfires.

She said that a total of 67 million acres in western states are in danger, or roughly 10 percent of all forest land.

We need to deal with this situation now to save our forests --- we cannot afford to play catch up once the fire has started.

Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell

“We need to deal with this situation now to save our forests --- we cannot afford to play catch up once the fire has started,” Cantwell said Thursday.

Cantwell says that thinning forests and allowed prescribed fires, also known as controlled burns, could help save the forests while also reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

In a conference call organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cantwell pitched her proposal, which she calls “risk-based fuel reduction.”

Cantwell said that thinning forests and allowed prescribed fires, also known as controlled burns, could help save the forests while also reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

“If we want to save our forests, we’re going to have to take more decisive action, clearer action on risk-based fuel reduction,” she said.

While the idea has plenty of support, it has ignited its share of controversy, as well.

In 2000, for example, more than 18,000 residents in New Mexico had to be evacuated when a prescribed fire got out of control. The National Park Service had intended to burn 900 acres, but the fire consumed 48,000 acres before it could be stopped.

Cantwell said Congress needs to respond to the growing number of wildfires across the nation to save money.

Last year, she said, the U.S. Forest Service spent $1.7 billion fighting fires. But she said that cost is projected to increase by another $600 million in the next 10 years.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-6154, @HotakainenRob

Here’s more: Cantwell also discussed her plan at a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June.

  Comments