OLYMPIA — During the 2015 Okanogan Complex Fire, state Rep. Joel Kretz saw where a fire line was put in Aeneas Valley.
“There was a cooperative effort done down there between the feds, the state and private landowners where they had — I don’t know how many miles long it was — a corridor,” said Kretz, R-Wauconda. “They’d gone in and actually managed, thinned the timber out, taken a lot of the ladder fuel out.
“... So often when we get these big ones going, we just concede everything to them and try to stop them at a highway or river or something like that. My interest is putting some of these lines in the forest and having some natural fuel breaks where we have a chance of stopping them.”
That’s why he sponsored House Bill 1784, which Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed and will go into effect July 28. The state Legislature unanimously passed the bill.
The new law will require the state Department of Natural Resources to create wildfire prevention corridors every year.
Land managers will have to decide where best to put corridors, Kretz said.
He said a study of last year’s California wildfires showed long, narrow sections of treated forest helped save thousands of acres of forestland, as well as several towns.
Forest treatments used in California included prescribed grazing, pruning, vegetation removal, chipping, burning and mastication. These processes — which focused first on diseased, dying or dead trees — eliminated fuels and left healthier, more fire-resistant trees in place.
“People are thinking, ‘Well, is this like you go in and take everything?’ That’s not the idea,” Kretz said. “You try and leave bigger trees and thin out in between them to where you’ve got a chance to stop a fire.”
Corridors also provide defensible spaces for firefighters, he said.
If smoke from recent wildfires hadn’t drifted over to the west side, the issue may still be seen as a rural or eastern Washington problem, Kretz said.
“We really, really need to focus on forest health, and I think we’re finally getting a meeting of the minds that it is a problem,” he said. “Some of us have been saying it for 30 years, but I think the smoke hitting Seattle was a big help. They’ve kind of decided now, ‘Well, maybe we need to do something.’”
His goal is for corridor plans to be laid out and work to be started within the next year. DNR will implement corridors on its land, and Kretz hopes to have cooperation from the U.S. Forest Service and private landowners.
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz was unavailable for an interview.