At the beginning of 2018, the town of Paradise, CA, was home to about 27,000 residents—by the end of the year, the inhabited town was all but gone.
More than 150,000 acres—roughly enough to cover Seattle,
Spokane, Tacoma, and Vancouver, combined—burned, and
that was only one of the many fires that tore across the
Western U.S. in 2018.
The scenes in California were all too familiar in
Washington, with apocalyptic images of smoke-clogged
skies in San Francisco eerily replicated from Seattle to
Spokane, as summer wildfires in Washington and British
Columbia blotted out the sun and shrouded city skylines. As
wildfire seasons lengthen and these scenes become more
common, residents are asking: Is this the new normal? More
so, what can be done to prevent further harm?
Of course, there are no easy answers to these questions.
Sharp debate over the causes and extent of human-caused
climate change is one response. Some call for more
aggressive forest thinning, through controlled burns or
mechanical thinning, as a preventative measure, while
others argue for building codes that require fire-resistant
materials for homes that are increasingly built in the paths
Last August, amid the smoke-filled summer in the Pacific
Northwest, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands
Hilary Franz gave her long view of forest management:
That’s part of what my 20-year forest health plan is.
It’s bringing forest health science into our forests and
ensuring that we are managing them for the long-term
health and resiliency of that forest to fire. That does
not mean clearcutting and logging. That means healthy
management of forests to ensure they can withstand the
fires we’ve seen, they can withstand the drought and the
disease that is facing them, and that they can be resilient
in the context of long, hot, dry summers.
“We Asked the State’s Top Wildfire-Fighting Official: Are Smoky
Summers the New Normal?” The Stranger, Aug. 22, 2018.
At NWLawyer, we wondered what perspectives legal
professionals could offer. We reached out to the WSBA
Environmental Law Section and heard from lawyers eager to
share their thoughts and ideas about the public’s sometimes
misguided perception of wildfire, the evolution of forest
management practices, and how timber law enforces broader
polices concerning Washington forests. We even received a
first-person account of one lawyer’s hands-on experience with
mechanical forest thinning. The following articles represent
a glimpse at the insight legal professionals can bring to this
increasingly relevant issue.
and the Law
Legal perspectives on
wildfires and forest management