Washington state and the U.S. Forest Service signed an agreement last week that officials say will improve on-the-ground management of public lands susceptible to wildfire.
It’s called a Good Neighbor Master Agreement. It allows the state to use federal money for watershed restoration and forest management on federal land in Washington. According to the Department of Natural Resources, nearly half of the 2.7 million acres at risk of wildfire statewide fall under federal jurisdiction.
But Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said it doesn’t matter who’s in charge when a fire is already burning.
“One of my sayings is we are one state, one fire,’” she said. “We’ve got to create an approach that is more seamless.”
Congress signed off on Good Neighbor Authority agreements back in 2014 when they passed the Farm Bill. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a similar agreement with the Forest Service last year.
When she signed the agreement last year, Governor Brown was quoted in a press release.
“The social, economic, and environmental issues tied to public lands go far beyond their boundaries,” Brown said. “Today’s signing is an important new tool that brings these issues together and promotes collaboration. We can get farther by working together than apart.”
That press release is dated March 29, 2016.
In a similar press release that went out following the agreement signed on March 10, 2017 between the state of Washington and the Forest service, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz was also quoted.
“The social, economic, and environmental issues tied to public lands go far beyond their boundaries,” Franz said. “This agreement is an important tool that brings these issues together and makes problem solving through collaboration possible. We can get farther by working together than apart.”
In fact, the quotes attributed to Gerry Day, Washington’s state Forester in the same press release are extremely similar to those attributed to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Curt Melcher in last year’s press release from Oregon.
This was Melcher’s statement:
“As managers of Oregon’s fish and wildlife resources, we rely heavily on partnerships with public and private land owners to address important habitat issues,” said Melcher. “Formal agreements like this will further strengthen our partnership with the Forest Service and provide the flexible tools and resources necessary to boost stewardship and bring rural communities together.”
And this is what Day said:
“We rely heavily on partnerships with public and private land owners to help rural communities, reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health, and address important habitat issues. Formal agreements like this will further strengthen our partnership with the Forest Service and provide a tool to boost land stewardship and rural communities.”
U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Jim Pena took part in both signings. Quotes attributed to him in both press releases are nearly identical.
From the Oregon agreement:
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and no agency or organization can do it alone,” said Pena. “This Good Neighbor Authority agreement is a model for how federal and state partners can work together with communities more effectively––it’s a win-win for the health of our forests and Oregonians.
And from Washington’s deal:
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and no agency or organization can do it alone,” said Pena. “This Good Neighbor Authority agreement is a model for how the Forest Service can work together with state partners and communities more effectively—a win-win for the health of our forests and Washingtonians.”
Cori Simmons, a spokesperson for Hilary Franz and Washington’s Department of Natural Resources, wrote in an email, "everything in the release is factually accurate and we stand by the content of the release and the opinions expressed in it."
Calls for comment to Gov. Brown’s office, the U.S. Forest Service were not immediately returned.