Commissioner of Public Lands Interview with John Kruse

by John Kruse, March 07, 2020


March 06 – March 13, 2020


This week I sat down with Hilary Franz, the Commissioner of Public Lands and head of the Washington Department of Natural Resources, for a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from wildfires to geoducks to derelict vessels and outdoor recreation. Here are some of the highlights:

WILDFIRE PREVENTION: This year Commissioner Franz introduced a plan to establish a 63-million-dollar Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Account. Franz stated our state faces a “Wildfire Crisis”, pointing out in 2018 we had the most wildfires in state history (1850). Franz also said, “In the last ten years 3.5 million acres of land has burned in Washington State.”

Commissioner Franz points out we are already spending 153 million dollars a year in reaction to wildfires burning in Washington. This account would be funded by home and car owners who would contribute on average $15 a year. In return, there would be dedicated funding available to proactively, in Franz’s words “One, get more resources and capacity to get on top of those fires quickly and two, get at a forest health crisis in Washington State where 2.7 million acres of forest in Central and Eastern Washington alone are dead and dying”.

Franz’s argument is the proactive work addressing dead and dying forests and having resources available for quick containment of fires would save far more money than relying on appropriations after the fact. Unfortunately, despite widespread support from a number of stakeholders, her proposal did not get far in the State Legislature this session. Franz is hoping to try again later this year.

DERELICT VESSELS: The Department of Natural Resources has a Derelict Vessel Fund available to help remove abandoned, sinking or other derelict boats from waterways in our State. These boats pollute our waters, damage habitat and can cause problems for other boats attempting to navigate lakes, rivers and bays. Unfortunately, there is significant and increasing demand for these removal services and some boats can cost over two million dollars to get out of the water.

Currently, only $200,000 is authorized for boat removal every two years. Franz has asked the Senate to lift the $200,00 cap and approve a plan that would allow for a quicker local and state government response to get these boats out of the water and to dismantle them at a facility in Ilwaco. This operation could provide 25 local jobs to the economy and allow interested individuals to purchase used parts from these boats. Franz is hopeful this will be approved by the State House and Senate before this legislative session ends.

GEODUCKS: Geoducks, those big clams found in Puget Sound, are big business for the Washington Department of Natural Resources. They own tidelands where these clams are found and auction off harvest rights to commercial clam operations. It turns out there is a big demand for these clams in China, where they are considered an aphrodisiac. In fact, a two-pound geoduck is so prized it can cost $100 on the open market.

Unfortunately, two issues are impacting geoduck economics. One is the trade war taking place between China (which accounts for 90 percent of the geoduck market) and the Trump administration. The Chinese government has imposed a 35 percent tariff on the import of these clams. Worse still, the Coronavirus outbreak has brought the Chinese economy to a standstill in recent weeks and between these two factors, there is very little demand in China right now for geoducks.

This means the 20-million-dollars normally received by the Dept. of Natural Resources every year is taking a 10-million dollar plus hit. The money received by the DNR from geoducks goes to salmon habitat restoration work and public access to our water ways so if you care about conservation and outdoor recreation this is a major issue.

OUTDOOR RECREATION: 3.3 million acres in Washington are managed by the Department of Natural Resources as state trust lands and outdoors recreational opportunities are available on many of them. In fact, there are 1200 miles for hikers, horseback riders, bicyclists and others to enjoy along with 80 campgrounds where no overnight fee is required. There are also 30 sites at lakes and numerous others along rivers, creeks and tidelands to include one (Douglas Falls Grange Park near Colville) that actually has a 60-foot waterfall to enjoy. While you don’t have to pay to stay overnight at DNR campgrounds you do need a Discover Pass to park on any State DNR lands. More information about things to do outdoors on DNR lands can be found at

This just scratches the surface of our conversation with Hilary Franz. You can find out more about these topics by tuning in to the March 14th weekend edition of Northwestern Outdoors Radio. Look for stations and air times at

John Kruse – and


Commissioner Hilary Franz talks to participants during a training session
Commissioner Hilary Franz –Photos courtesy Hilary Franz and Washington DNR


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