State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has done an excellent job over the past four years. She’s earned another term.
In 2016, when Franz, a Democrat, and Republican Steve McLaughlin ran for the then-open lands commissioner office, we gave McLaughlin the edge because of his extensive management experience.
However, over the past four years Franz has shown herself to be a top-notch manager. She has led the Department of Natural Resources with a steady hand, focusing on preventing and fighting forest fires and managing the state’s land to boost the amount of funds it raises to support school construction and supplementing local governments.
Franz’s challenger this year, Republican Sue Kuehl Pederson, is not prepared to lead the department forward in the way Franz has been doing it.
Franz, whose background is as an environmental attorney, will push the Legislature for more funding for forest fire prevention. She makes a strong case that prevention is far cheaper than allowing forests to burn.
She has a three-prong plan. She wants to beef up wildfire response across the state to keep the fires from spreading. She wants to double the effort to improve forest health. Right now the target is 70,000 acres a year. And she wants to work with communities in or near forest land to make them more resilient so homes and businesses will survive a wildfire.
In 2017, under her leadership, the forest management program for Eastern Washington was approved. Franz said progress has been made on clearing forest debris — fuel — and making forests more resistant to blazes.
Franz’s office also oversees the state’s timber trust fund, in which timber is sold with the money used to fund public school capital building projects like the current revamping of Walla Walla High School, Pioneer Middle School and Lincoln High School.
While the selling of timber is still a strong business for the state, Franz has been further diversifying the use of state land. It now include wheat farming, growing wine grapes and leasing stand lands for buildings — and even parking lots.
Managing all the state land brings in about $325 million a year, with about $125 million going to schools and $200 million to local governments.
In addition, Franz is looking into ways to make more money for the schools and local governments by finding a market to make a profit on the dead limbs and debris. Instead of simply burning it all, she wants to turn it into pellets that can be sold for fuel.
Franz is doing exactly what the lands commissioner should be doing — keeping a careful eye on this state’s vast forest land, about 22 million acres of government-owned and private forests.
We urge votes to re-elect to a second term.