HB 2928

This analysis was prepared by non-partisan legislative staff for the use of legislative members in their deliberations. This analysis is not a part of the legislation nor does it constitute a statement of legislative intent.

As Reported by House Committee On:

Agriculture & Natural Resources

Title: An act relating to ensuring that restrictions on outdoor burning for air quality reasons do not impede measures necessary to ensure forest resiliency to catastrophic fires.

Brief Description: Ensuring that restrictions on outdoor burning for air quality reasons do not impede measures necessary to ensure forest resiliency to catastrophic fires.

Sponsors: Representatives Kretz, Blake, Schmick, Dunshee, Short, Haler, Stanford and Chandler.

Brief History:

Committee Activity:

Agriculture & Natural Resources: 2/3/16, 2/4/16 [DPS].

Brief Summary of Substitute Bill

  • Creates "forest resiliency burning" as a permitted burning activity carried out by professionals to maintain ecosystems, mitigate wildfire potential, decrease forest insect or disease susceptibility, or otherwise enhance resiliency to fire.

  • Requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue multiple-day burn permits for forest resiliency burning and specifies conditions under which the DNR may revoke, refuse, or postpone a forest resiliency burn permit application.

  • Specifies that forest resiliency burning permits may be issued when other outdoor burning is restricted because of a called or forecasted air pollution episode, or because an area is not in attainment with state or federal air quality standards.


Majority Report: The substitute bill be substituted therefor and the substitute bill do pass. Signed by 13 members: Representatives Blake, Chair; Walkinshaw, Vice Chair; Buys, Ranking Minority Member; Dent, Assistant Ranking Minority Member; Chandler, Hurst, Kretz, Lytton, Orcutt, Pettigrew, Schmick, Stanford and Van De Wege.

Staff: Rebecca Lewis (786-7339).


Air Quality Standards.

The Department of Ecology (Ecology) and seven local air pollution control authorities (local air authorities) have each received approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer aspects of the federal Clean Air Act in Washington. Local clean air agencies have the primary responsibility for administering the state and federal Clean Air acts in counties which have elected to activate a local air authority or to form a multicounty air authority. In other areas of the state, Ecology is responsible for administering state and federal Clean Air Act programs. Under the federal Clean Air Act, each state maintains a State Implementation Plan that describes how the state implements clean air programs to achieve the federal ambient air quality standards for air pollutants.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the EPA sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for several pollutants including carbon monoxide and particulate matter. There are two types of NAAQS:

Under the state Clean Air Act, Ecology sets Washington Ambient Air Quality Standards (WAAQS). Local air authorities may also adopt standards that apply within their jurisdiction which must be at least as protective as federal standards. Local standards and WAAQS are primary standards only.

Burning Permits.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Ecology, and certain political subdivisions, such as counties, conservation districts, fire protection authorities, and local air authorities may issue permits for a variety of outdoor burning activities in their respective jurisdictions allowed under the state Clean Air Act. Outdoor burning includes agricultural burning, the burning of organic yard or gardening waste, and silvicultural burning. Outdoor burn permits may not be issued during a period of impaired air quality declared by Ecology or a local air authority.

The DNR has direct charge and responsibility over all matters relating to forest fire services in the state. The DNR is also responsible for issuing and regulating permits for certain burning activities on lands under the DNR's fire protection authority for the following purposes:


Summary of Substitute Bill:

Forest resiliency burning is created as a type of permitted burning activity that is differentiated from other types of outdoor burning. Permits must be issued at least 24 hours before the proposed forest resiliency burn. Forest resiliency burning is burning carried out by professionals in order to maintain ecosystems, mitigate wildfire potential, decrease forest insect or disease susceptibility, or otherwise enhance resiliency to fire.

The DNR must issue multiple-day forest resiliency burn permits, and may issue permits when there is an air pollution episode called or forecasted. Forest resiliency burn permits may also be issued in areas that are not in attainment with state or federal air quality standards.

Forest resiliency burn permits may be issued if the burning is unlikely to significantly contribute to an air quality violation, and may only be refused, revoked, or postponed for safety purposes, or if burning poses an unreasonable risk of air pollution, taking into account the likelihood of subsequent air pollution resulting from an unplanned fire if the burn permit is not issued. Once underway, multiple-day forest resiliency burn permits may only be revoked or postponed if the DNR or Ecology determines that the burn has significantly contributed to an air quality violation.

Substitute Bill Compared to Original Bill:

The substitute bill requires forest resiliency burning permits to be issued at least 24 hours prior to the proposed burn.


Appropriation: None.

Fiscal Note: Requested on February 1, 2016.

Effective Date of Substitute Bill: The bill takes effect 90 days after adjournment of the session in which the bill is passed.

Staff Summary of Public Testimony:

(In support) There has been work with several agencies on this issue. Prescribed burning is an essential tool to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. It is better to deal with a little smoke for a short period of time due to a controlled fire than deal with a lot of smoke for a whole summer. There are very short windows of time when burning is allowed, and much uncertainty as to when burning can be done. This bill is an attempt to remove these barriers. This type of policy has been effective in other states.

Conducting forest thinning followed by prescribed burning is a very effective strategy to reduce the potential catastrophic effects of wildfires. Additionally, native plants and species thrive better when controlled burns occur. In travelling to areas where wildfires have occurred, there is a clear distinction between the areas which have been subject to thinning and prescribed burning and those that have not. There is a need for public education about the benefits of prescribed burning.

Farmers and ranchers have experienced the effects of catastrophic wildfires every year. The smoke from wildfires does not only affect those who live near the fire. During the fires in 2015, smoke caused health and other issues in the Palouse area, even though fires were miles away in central Washington.

Various groups have been working to maintain healthy, resilient forests for decades. There are three elements to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire: (1) respond quickly when fires start; (2) engage with local communities to plan and prepare; and (3) restore forest health with strategies such as thinning and prescribed burning. The Smoke Management Plan is 20 years old, and ambiguities in the past have caused confusion over when and where prescribed burning can occur.

Prescribed burning to reduce the impacts of catastrophic wildfires should be supported. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is expanding their active forest management program using thinning and prescribed burning. This bill would help accelerate forest treatments. There should be an amendment to require permits to be issued 24 hours prior to the prescribed burn.

(Opposed) None.

(Other) The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supports prescribed burning, and would like to do more. Resource scarcity is an issue. This bill would require the DNR to open up the Smoke Management Plan. Federal law does not allow air quality standards to be less restrictive than federal policy. Forest health burning is already exempt from some federal restrictions.

Persons Testifying: (In support) Representative Kretz, prime sponsor; Paul Dahmer, Department of Fish and Wildlife; Tom Davis, Washington Farm Bureau; and Scott Richards, The Nature Conservancy.

(Other) Mary Verner; and Karen Arnold, Department of Natural Resources.

Persons Signed In To Testify But Not Testifying: None.