DNR using fire season to cover up failed management
Last updated 7/21/2021 at 10:55am
On Tuesday, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz announced she was halting all public access to state Department of Natural Resources-managed lands in Eastern Washington effective Friday, July 23. The closure includes roads, trails, campgrounds and recreational areas. Her excuses — fire season and drought.
Hello! It’s July in Eastern Washington!
This time of year east of the Cascades, it’s fire season. It’s also a time where we generally get high heat and little rain. That has held true since long before Washington was a state.
But blame the Eastern Washington summer on global warming and give the member of the Western Washington liberal elite a soap box and some authority, and we once again have an emergency closure of public-owned land, trails, roads, etc.
We saw it last year when Gov. Jay Inslee shut down trails, campgrounds, boat launches and even fishing under the guise of coronavirus prevention.
Now, it’s environmental activist-turned-politician Franz’s turn.
Apparently, she believes the public — the real owner of the lands her agency manages — isn’t responsible enough to camp, fish, hike or even use a boat launch without starting a fire. According to the DNR website, “due to extreme fire danger, all recreation and public access to DNR-managed lands in Eastern Washington” is closed from July 23 “until fire conditions improve.”
In layman terms, that means you are likely locked out of agency-managed campgrounds, trails, forest roads and boat launches here for the rest of the summer, maybe even well into the fall. After all, Franz has already announced a burn ban on DNR “protected” areas here through Sept. 30.
Such is the problem when government holds title to the land for so-called public access and use. This shutdown, like others, is just a new power grab that we’re likely to see every year if Franz gets away with it.
The shutdown of public access to the roads, trails and lands we paid for has more to do with failed state land management practices and policies than with residents and visitors causing fires. Indeed, even Franz’s agency acknowledges that fact in the closure dictate, noting “current fuel loads” are a major cause of concern.
Yes, dry grass and sage is part of that “current” fuel load. But so are the forest floors, where downed timber and thick underbrush are the result of years of neglect, ever-restricting timber harvest policies, increasing limits on grazing, and management that pushes land acquisition and control over effective management of areas already under DNR jurisdiction.
Shutting down our land is just another government scare tactic, something Franz used to jump from her environmental activist background to elected office on the strength of Western Washington vote.
Franz is also using fire season excuse to do more than close access to the amenities you and I own. For a couple years now, she’s been using it as an excuse to grow her agency’s employee ranks.
If our state is going to get a better handle on summer fires, it will have to revamp land management practices.
That begins with returning some public lands to private ownership, which will generate taxes for local fire districts. Some state-managed land can also be put back into active agriculture production, which will generate jobs and additional tax revenues.
At a minimum, DNR should be prevented from further land acquisition.
The state will also need to increase grazing and timber harvest opportunities, dedicate more employee-hours to physical land management (like pulling noxious weeds and clearing downed timber) and effectively plan for fire season instead of reacting with scare tactics.
Failure to see these and other measures enacted will likely lead to future “emergency” shutdowns, effectively stripping our right to work and recreate on the land we the public own.
— Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].