Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with former U.S. Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, who recently announced she is running to become the next Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands. Herrera Beutler served the 3rd Congressional District (Southwest Washington) for 12 years in the U.S. House of Representatives after she was a state representative in Olympia for four years. Currently Herrera Beutler leads a crowded field of seven announced candidates (two Republicans and five Democrats) in fundraising.
In her interview, Herrera Beutler explained that she wants to become the state’s land commissioner to improve the management of the state’s public lands to prevent the devastating wildfires the state has experienced under Democrat leadership. She stated that many of the recent wildfires could have been prevented by simply clearing brush and removing downed trees which provide fuel for the wildfires. Herrera Beutler expressed her belief that many on the Left are guided more by ideology instead of science when managing the state’s resources. Finally, Herrera Beutler selected a classic biography of one of our nation’s founding fathers as her favorite book.
Why have you decided to run for Washington State Lands Commissioner? For those who are unfamiliar with the position, what are the responsibilities of the office?
My husband and I are raising our family in the path of the Yacolt Burn, which stood for over a century as the largest forest fire in Washington State history. In just the past decade, that terrible record has already been surpassed three times. Decades of undermanagement and neglect have turned our forests into crowded, diseased tinderboxes, just waiting for a spark.
I won’t leave my kids a legacy of burning forests and choking smoke. We can and will do better, and that’s why I’m running for Lands Commissioner. It’s a role that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it has a huge impact on every Washingtonian.
The Lands Commissioner is the head of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages more than 3 million acres of State Trust land throughout Washington. It’s mostly forest, but there’s also range and agricultural land. Trust land is managed to provide habitat for native plant and animal species and used for all kinds of outdoor recreation, and it’s also leased for timber harvest, grazing, mineral leases and communications towers, with the money from the leases funding school construction. DNR is also responsible for more than 2.6 million acres of beaches and tidelands. The aquatic land is leased for shellfish harvesting, marinas and ports.
DNR administers the State Forest Plan, which guides logging, road construction and other work in the woods on more than 12 million acres of public and private forest in Washington.
And DNR runs the largest on-call fire department in the state, with more than 1,200 temporary and permanent employees who fight the fires that spring up every year on more than 13 million acres of public and private forest land. Those firefighters do heroic work, and neglect of our forests has kept them far too busy in recent years.
You have made reducing the impact of wildfires the center of your campaign. What can the lands commissioner do to prevent fire damage to both public and private lands?
Fires now run rampant every summer. They ruin our days with smoke, emit carbon, make home insurance unavailable and housing even more unaffordable. And for anyone unfortunate enough to live in the path of one of those fires, they can cause unimaginable heartache.
I’ll be a Lands Commissioner who will prioritize fire resilience. We have to remove the dead and diseased trees that serve as fuel for the fires that plague us every summer, and quickly fight the fires that do occur. Our state is full of brilliant scientists and foresters who know how to manage the land to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire without harvesting our old growth forests or degrading wildlife habitat. Many of them are already working at the state Department of Natural Resources. I’ll be a leader who’ll value and defend their good work, clear the administrative obstacles out of their path, and give them the support they need to do their jobs.
What other issue will you be campaigning on during 2024?
Making sure the owners of public land – the people of Washington – will always have access to it. We are so fortunate to live in America’s most beautiful state, and we treasure our outdoor recreation. I’ll keep public land open to the public.
There are several liberal elected officials who are seeking to become Washington State Public Lands Commissioner. In general, what is the difference between how you will manage state lands and how those on the political Left would govern these lands?
It’s too easy for my opponents to be guided by ideology rather than science. If their goal is to preserve our lands and protect our environment, locking up forests doesn’t work. It creates a critical load of debris and dead and diseased trees, which eventually ignite into the massive wildfires we’ve seen over the past decade. Once those fires get going, they don’t recognize old growth and critical habitat. Everything goes up in flames, and we’re left with devastation. Our recent wildfires have wiped out two decades of gains in air quality. Neglect doesn’t work.
And independent academic study after study shows that refusing to harvest timber increases net CO2 emissions. Unmanaged forests are not more effective at sequestering carbon over long periods. Also, when you restrict the wood supply you end up making steel and concrete more attractive to builders, and those materials are far more carbon-intensive to produce than wood. The new Lands Commissioner can’t be too wrapped up in extreme dogma to recognize these realities.
How will your 12 years in Congress help you perform the job of Land Commissioner?
You can’t represent Southwest Washington effectively in Congress without building a deep familiarity with land use and forestry issues. One of my counties, Skamania, is 90% timberland with more than 80% National Forest, and the county commissioners there can tell you firsthand about the challenges associated with current forest policy.
I worked hard in Congress to improve the way our National Forests were managed, and for more resources to fight fires, and we scored some big victories. My bill to upgrade and improve forest roads was signed into law, impacting tens of thousands of jobs in working forests. I helped to dramatically improve the funding picture for firefighting activities. And I built bipartisan relationships and coalitions to get surprising things done – my bill to fight the sea lion predation that’s depleted salmon runs drew support from all corners and became law. I’m also proud of the work we did to preserve wildlife habitat throughout Southwest Washington.
My district ran all the way out to Pacific County on the coast, where I worked with shellfish growers on the difficulties in their industry related to habitat degradation. I co-led a bill to combat ocean acidification to reverse the deterioration of shellfish habitat and worked to prioritize permitting to reduce the backlogs.
Serving Southwest Washington was a wonderful preparation for the Lands Commissioner role. I also served in Olympia as a member of the Washington State House prior to my election to Congress, where I worked on many of the same issues. I’m ready to hit the ground running.
One question we ask all the candidates we interview is, what is your favorite book? Why?
John Adams, by David McCullough. I’m into biographies, and John and Abigail Adams are both role models for me. They both had the temerity and vision to do what was right even when it was unpopular. John was one of the most outspoken opponents of slavery among our Founding Fathers. Abigail had tenacity and influence far beyond her station. Together they helped set the course for our country.
If you would like to learn more about Jaime Herrera Beutler and her campaign for Washington State Public Lands Commissioner, please visit her website.