Washington state's Commissioner of Public Lands signs Forest Health Hazard warning for four counties, encourages forest landowners to take voluntary action to protect their properties from wildfires, bug attacks

OLYMPIA, Washington , August 23, 2012 (press release) – Today, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark signed a Forest Health Hazard Warning for portions of Okanogan, Ferry, Klickitat, and Yakima counties. Citing concerns for catastrophic wildfire and bug-killed trees, the Commissioner took action to warn forest landowners and encourage them to take voluntary action to protect their property.

“I am sounding the alarm about our declining forest health. Working with property owners and land managers, we can restore the health of our forests and reduce the effects of catastrophic fire,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “Proactive measures like responsible forest thinning will create jobs in rural communities where they are needed most.”

Voluntary actions advised to assess and remediate risks

Implementing and expanding the recommendations of a nine-member technical advisory committee, the Forest Health Hazard Warning targets areas seeing significant damage from forest insects. The purpose of a warning is to call attention to deteriorating conditions and help coordinate timely actions to address the situation. All actions are voluntary on the part of the affected landowners and land managers. Affected landowners will receive notice of the Forest Health Hazard Warning in the mail from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A warning has been issued for eastern Okanogan and Ferry counties for the forest insects; western spruce budworm and pine bark beetles (mountain pine beetle, western pine beetle). A warning has also been issued for portions of Klickitat and Yakima counties for pine bark beetles. Warning area maps are posted on the DNR website: Klickitat/Yakima counties and Okanogan/Ferry counties.

The acres of trees that have been killed or damaged by forest insects and diseases over the past decade is 150 percent greater than in the 1990s, 200 percent greater than in the 1980s, and 175 percent greater than in the 1970s. Today’s forests are much less diverse, have different mixes of tree species, and exhibit more overcrowded conditions compared to what one would have found historically. These changes have increased forest vulnerability to insect damage.

Forest Health Hazard Warning
Last November, Goldmark initiated the state’s Forest Health Hazard Warning system and convened the technical advisory committee in January. The committee held five meetings to evaluate threats to forest health, determine areas where a forest health hazard warning may be warranted under state law, and develop recommendations to address the threat. The committee’s report describes its recommendations to Commissioner Goldmark. In July, DNR held three public hearings in the hazard warning areas.

Funding of $4.3 million was allocated to DNR under a “Jobs Bill” passed by the state legislature in April and will be prioritized toward the effort.

DNR recommends that forest landowners in the warning area assess the current damage and risks on their land with the help of a professional forester and pursue appropriate actions, such as thinning, to reduce risks. Carefully planned and executed tree thinning or harvests can reduce susceptibility by restoring more normal forest conditions.

DNR has created a website to help landowners learn about assessing risks, identifying insect damage and susceptible forest conditions, and requesting a free consultation with a DNR forester: www.dnr.wa.gov/foresthealth

Landowners can also call toll free 1-855-338-8200 if they have questions or want to talk with a DNR forester.

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