Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the cool temperatures and frosty mornings, wildfire season has come to a close. Considering some of the wildfires we have had in recent years, it was not a bad fire year for Washington, especially when you look at the states around us – Oregon, Idaho, California and our neighbor to the north, British Columbia.
However, we did not go unscathed. Here in the 13th District, the Jolly Mountain fire threatened recreation areas, communities, livestock and homes. This fire was in terrain that made it difficult to fight and in timber that was basically a tinderbox, given the beetle infestation and poor forest management throughout the years.
The Jolly Mountain wildfire did show, on some levels, that we are headed in the right direction on combatting our wildfires and getting legislation in place that is helpful. In the 2016 legislative session, I passed legislation allowing the moving of livestock in a wildfire emergency. Under House Bill 2925, the Department of Natural Resources must make a reasonable effort to accommodate a livestock owner's request to retrieve or care for animals that are at risk due to a wildfire. During the Jolly Mountain fire, some ranchers were able to utilize this law, as they were able to access their land to retrieve and move their livestock to safety. This would not have been an option in past years.
The fire management crew did an excellent job on the Jolly Mountain fire. They used as many resources as possible, despite the challenges that were many: aircraft wasn't able to drop water at times given the steep, rugged terrain; their were no access roads to get crews in because of the remoteness of the fire; and it is estimated the fire was burning in forest that was up to 60 percent dead canopy. I was extremely impressed with those flying the aircraft when they were able, and the crews that built the fire lines trying to contain this inferno. It could have been much worse. The fire is still not out, and likely won't be until winter sets in. However, it is considered 100 percent contained and is not threatening any communities, homes or livestock given its remote location.
Rep. Dent visits with firefighters at the Jolly Mountain fire camp.
Forest management plan
On Oct. 26, not too far from the Jolly Mountain fire, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz released a 20-year Forest Health Plan to reduce the number of wildfires and improve the health of 1.25 million acres of forest land in eastern Washington.
I had the privilege of introducing Commissioner Franz before her announcement. She unveiled the plan surrounded by legislative, industry, environmental and community leaders. The plan was put together by 56 representatives from 33 agencies. This is a good first step in addressing our forest health. You can find a copy of the Forest Health Plan here.
I commend Commissioner Franz for keeping an open mind and open lines of communication as well. She has been in office for less than a year and I have been able to meet with her on a number of occasions. She has been receptive to many of our ideas in fighting wildfires and managing our forests. I will continue to work with her in the future and also pursue a number of ideas and bills at the legislative level to tackle wildfires and forest health.
Rep. Dent with Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz at the Jolly Mountain Fire Command Center.
Successful trip to Japan
Sens. Judy Warnick and Mark Schoesler and I took a recent trade mission to Japan, which I feel was very successful. Our mission was to foster and strengthen relationships with the Japanese people, to share ideas and work together into the future. We were able to see many aspects of why their economy is thriving. At the same time, we had a great dialogue about the benefits of doing business in the 13th Legislative District and Washington state. They look favorably upon us as a strong partner in key industry sectors such as aerospace and advanced manufacturing, and we want that to continue.
The innovation and the factories were amazing. We met with the Boeing president of Japan, visited the plant where they do the carbon-fiber wings for the Boeing planes. As we toured these places and even the retail stores, you could sense the work ethic and the pride the young people took in their job. It was great to see how proud they are of what they were doing and where they worked.
Rep. Tom Dent with Japan Boeing President Brett C. Gerry.
Selected to air cargo stakeholder group
I have been selected to the stakeholder group that will be working on the Washington State Air Cargo Movement Study. The study was part of the transportation budget passed by the Legislature in the 2017 legislative session. I was appointed by our lead Republican on the House Transportation Committee due my aviation experience and background, and with the expectation the Grant County International Airport will likely play an important role in air cargo issues moving forward.
The objectives of the Air Cargo Movement Study include:
- educating policy makers about air cargo movement at Washington airports;
- exploring possibilities for accommodating the growing air cargo market at more airports around the state; and,
- identifying the state's interest and role in addressing issues arising from air cargo congestion.
I bring a unique perspective to the group, since I am familiar with the current condition and needs of our state's aviation facilities. I look forward to being part of this group as we try to strengthen air cargo transport and services in Washington state.
With Friday being Veterans' Day, I want to take the time to thank all of our veterans for their service to our country. Washington state is home to more than 590,000 veterans and they make up approximately nine percent of state's population.
Earlier this year, I had the great privilege of assisting a veteran receive some citations he had not received for his heroic actions during the Vietnam War. My Legislative Assistant Syl Wiles, who is also an Army veteran, deserves a lot of credit. She began to speak with Chief Warrant Officer Loren Gee when she discovered there had never been an awards ceremony to recognize his service. Wiles reached out to Lt. Col. William Blakely, 66th Theater Aviation Command, and shared Gee's story and heroics. Blakely then invited Gee and his family to take part in a ceremony at the Aviation Readiness Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord with the newest pilots in the Washington National Guard. He was presented a Certificate of Appreciation for his actions in Vietnam and also was recognized for receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Loren Gee, with military personnel and Rep. Tom Dent after Gee was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Gee is credited with saving numerous lives of the 75th Infantry Regiment Rangers. The Rangers were on a long-range reconnaissance patrol, deep inside the Viet Cong when they came under gunfire from all directions. They began taking casualties and sent out an immediate call for air support. Gee heard the call and while he was advised not to go in, he broke formation and came to the aid of the Battalion. The Rangers were able to escape because of his actions. It was amazing to hear firsthand accounts of Loren's heroics.
I don't think many of us realize what those brave men and women went through in Vietnam or any of the wars, for that matter. At a time when we have a lot of political discord and dissention in our country and communities, this Veterans' Day should remind us to not lose sight of who provided our freedoms in the past and continue to fight to ensure we have them in the future. A happy Veterans' Day to all of our veterans out there. Thank you for your service to your country and communities.
Rep. Dent and Loren Gee with military personnel at JBLM.
The 2018 legislative session is just around the corner. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or comments about legislation or state issues. You can email me at email@example.com, contact my Olympia at (360) 786-7932, or my shared district office with Sen. Warnick at (509) 766-6505.