The weather is finally starting to heat up — and that means summer is coming.
A decade or so ago, that brought to mind myriad fun activities such as swimming, biking, hiking and simply enjoying some sunshine.
But now it also means the thick smoke of wildfires will be settling in the Walla Walla Valley. Of course, we will not be alone. The stifling smoke has engulfed the entire Pacific Northwest the past few years from wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.
This year’s isn’t expected to be any different — or better.
Washington state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who was a guest on a Seattle Times podcast recently, offered what was characterized as a somewhat grim prognosis for the 2019 wildfire season. In fact, she said, the trouble has already started. She said 54 fires broke out during a single week in March.
“We’ve never had 54 fires in the second week of March — 53 of them west of the Cascades,” Franz said.
As of last week, Franz’s agency has responded to 239 wildfires compared with 131 at this time last year.
That’s very, very concerning.
Franz said the forests in Washington are dry and diseased.
“We have in Washington state a forest-health crisis. We have in Central and Eastern Washington alone, 2.7 million acres of forests that are dying,” Franz said.
The state is working to increase thinning of forests, doing more controlled burns and clearing brush to reduce future fires.
The Legislature approved about $50 million in new funding for wildfire response and forest-health work in the 2019-2021 budget. That’s a wise investment. To this point, the efforts at preventing forest fires have been woefully inadequate.
Since 2015, according to reporting by The Seattle Times, the Legislature allocated just $18 million for the effort.
The infusion of cash will allow for a serious effort to improve overall forest health in Washington state. This, over time, will reduce the spread of wildfires.
Of course, wildfires do not follow state boundaries. The fires from Canada and Montana that spewed smoke that engulfed our Valley in recent years will not be specifically addressed.
Still, if each state or province address forest health the way Washington state is trying to do, the situation would improve.
The smoke that hovers for weeks in the Walla Walla Valley, Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon must be reduced.