Attention small forest owners: the State is launching a tool just for you | Local
Those who own private forest land in rural Cowlitz County now have a faster way to get financial help and advice from forest health experts after a state agency launched an online tool on Tuesday. comprehensive for landowners.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources launched the Landowner Support Portal in the hope that the tool will help rural landowners know which relief programs they are eligible for and how best to keep their private land healthy for humans and wildlife.
“This new tool is a one-stop shop for private forestland owners in Washington,” said Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands for the Department of Natural Resources. “We are making transformational investments in our landowner assistance programs with the goal of keeping Washington State evergreen. Easier access to information about forest health, stewardship, and fire prevention from forest will help landowners protect their homes and forests.”
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Small private forest owners in southwest Washington are defined as those with less than 5,000 acres of rural land, said Natalie Johnson, forest practices communications manager at the Department of Natural Resources.
The portal includes information on the health of logging operations, how to obtain burning permits and financial assistance for forest restoration. The site also includes educational tools for landowners to learn about forest charges and general best practices for keeping private rural land healthy.
The tool marks another step to expand the Department of Natural Resources’ forest service program as the Pacific Northwest continues to deal with the first effects of a warming climate that has placed its forests in a precarious position.
Wildfires aren’t as common in southwestern Washington, tending to stay on the eastern side of Oregon and Washington, but Johnson said preparedness for wildfire risk is becoming increasingly no longer a priority on the west side.
Historically, wildfires on the west side have occurred naturally and have had longer cycles that would help manage overgrowth. Johnson said the west side hadn’t seen these natural burns in a while and that resulted in unhealthy forests.
“Our forests are not the best positioned to withstand wildfires when they do occur,” Johnson said.
Cowlitz County’s burning ban will remain in effect until September 30. The Department of Natural Resources considers most of Washington state, including southwestern Washington, to be at moderate fire risk due to the tendency of fires to ignite and spread quickly. For September, the department placed the region at normal for wildfire risk.
The Department of Natural Resources has recently pushed to put forest health first, recently relaunching its prescribed burn program in hopes it will offset the effects of a major, out-of-control wildfire.
In July, the agency fought 160 fires across the state and 149 in August, according to its wildfire watch map.
The department also plans to expand the Service Forestry program in western Washington to be proactive about future environmental concerns, according to the news release.
It’s not just the fires that private forest owners need to prepare for, Johnson said. Daily concerns about insects and invasive plants, replacing culverts, how to plan for wildlife entry to the property, and obtaining agency technical services are also attached to the portal.
Johnson said the Department of Natural Resources website already includes these services, but the portal will make it easier for residents to access.
“If you’re a small forest owner, you’re probably eligible for technical assistance and financial assistance,” Johnson said. “If you don’t think you qualify, you might be surprised.”
Part of the Landowner Support Portal Funding comes from a state law passed this year that created about two dozen new positions to support homeowners living in rural western Washington, according to the press release.
Sydney Brown is a reporter for the Daily News covering education and environmental issues in Cowlitz County.