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Washington state must invest in wildfire prevention

  • 1 min to read

“You can pay me now or pay me later.”

That phrase comes from a 1972 television commercial for Fram-brand engine oil filters in which a mechanic explains that if the owner of the car had purchased a quality $4 oil filter earlier that owner wouldn’t be shelling out $200 for an engine overhaul today.

The prices are, of course, outdated — but the message remains relevant half a century later.

And it is the message that the state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is bringing to the state Legislature this year as she seeks a permanent funding source to fight and prevent wildfires.

This won’t be the first time she has implored lawmakers to fund wildfire prevention that will ultimately reduce the cost — and destruction — of out of control forest fires.

Franz’s legislation proposes $125 million in funding over the next two years, according to a report by Seattle Times reporter David Gutman.

He wrote that the money would be used to improve forest health, thus making them less vulnerable to catastrophic fires, help communities in or near forests to boost their resilience to fires and purchase equipment to boost the state’s ability to fight fires.

“For years we have relied on luck and hope instead of investing in what’s needed to protect our communities and firefighters. Hope will not prevent wildfires, and luck doesn’t put them out,” Franz told Gutman in an interview.

In the past, Franz has suggested a tax on property and casualty insurance and a surcharge on insurance premiums to fund firefighting and prevention. Lawmakers gave the suggestions short shrift.

This time around Franz isn’t advocating for a funding source, but simply focusing on the clear need. Perhaps shifting the focus to the need for more fire prevention could convince lawmakers to embrace the concept of preventative maintenance. They will see the wisdom in spending some cash up front rather than spending far more this summer, next summer and the summer after battling blazes and cleaning up wildfire disasters.

The harsh reality is that wildfires will hit this summer and fall. Recent history shows these fires are getting more and more devastating.

Franz said that over the past five years, which have included several of the worst fire seasons in state history, Washington has spent an average of $153 million a year fighting fires.

“This isn’t a question of whether we pay for fires or something else,” she said. “The question is whether we’re going to pay to react in the face of smoke and fire, which always costs more, or whether we’re going to be proactive.”

Yep. Pay now or pay more later. Paying now makes far more sense.