March 17, 2017

Lands commissioner focused on opportunities in rural counties (w/video)

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Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz speaks to AWB's Lobby Lunch on March 16, 2017. She was joined by her new community development director, Josh Wilund, formerly of Alcoa, who until taking the new state position was an AWB board member. (Photo by Brian Mittge/AWB)

There are opportunities in rural Washington counties.

This was the message from Hilary Franz, Commissioner of Public Lands, yesterday at AWB’s final Lobby Lunch of the year.

Franz, who was elected to the office last fall, told the audience about her background as a third-generation cattle rancher and a private forest land owner and said her upbringing lends itself to understanding rural values, which she described as hard working and remaining tough through adversity.

She told attendees that Washington has immense opportunity in its rural counties.

“We have 2.7 million acres of forests that are in poor health,” Franz said. “This is our opportunity and our biggest test. It’s what excites me most about my role.” And, she added, her goal is to take the problem and make it an opportunity to drive growth in struggling rural communities.

To accomplish this, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has established a four-year plan, including creating a new position: community development director.

Franz hired Josh Wilund to serve in the new position. Wilund will focus on five struggling, economically-diverse Washington communities and assist them in developing relationships with their local governments, chambers of commerce and the DNR.

DNR officials will speak with regional community members about what is and isn’t working in their economies. They will then take the feedback and create a multi-pronged plan to see what works best within the resources in the community, Franz said.

For many rural areas, clean energy — including wind, solar and biomass — is an area of interest, she said. Adding these industry sectors would help each community have an individualized and diverse geographic economic base.

Since her election, Franz said she has been to every corner of the state and has found bipartisan support for her efforts to address wildfire mitigation through better management of forest lands.

Helping her cause, the DNR and U.S. Forest Service signed a historic agreement last week. The “Good Neighbor Agreement” is a partnership between the two organizations to better manage public forests, according to a DNR press release.

“The social, economic, and environmental issues tied to public lands go far beyond their boundaries,” said Franz in the release. “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.”

DNR has the tools for success and that they are prepared to “get the ball rolling,” for rural communities, Franz said. “We have foresters, biologists and geologists - we have the expertise to identify the problems and develop the solutions.”

Franz’s Lobby Lunch address follows her participation at AWB’s first-ever Rural Jobs Summit March 4, where lawmakers, economic development officials and others gathered to discuss job creation in rural communities.

Contact Mike Ennis, government affairs director for infrastructure and land use issues, at 360.943.1600.