Daines: Increased Forest Management Vital to Reducing Threat of Wildfire in Montana

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today emphasized the importance of proper management of Montana’s National Forests to reduce the costly threat of devastating wildfires in Montana. 

During today’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the federal government’s role in wildfire management, the impact of fires on communities and potential improvements to be made in fire operations, Daines called on Congress to find long-term solutions for funding wildfire suppression. 

I’ve spent a lot of time traveling across Montana hearing from conservation groups, sportsmen groups and the timber industry, and I think we’ve got great, broad spectrum agreement that we have to change the way wildfire suppression is funded,” Daines stated. “It’s essential that Congress resolves this challenge this year, and I’m going to do everything I can to help make that happen.”

Daines also questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell on factors preventing the Forest Service from fully treating the millions of acres of Montana National Forest that are at high risk of wildfire.

According to the Forest Service, seven million federally controlled acres in Montana are at high or very high risk of wildfire. 1.8 million acres of that high-risk forestland are near populated communities or threatened watersheds. The Forest Service only performed treatment on 52,000 of those acres in the last year. 

“Unfortunately, I was informed that the Forest Service did hazardous fuels treatments on only about 52,000 of those acres in the last fiscal year,” Daines stated. “I have no doubt that the work you did was important, but the current pace of treatment is simply not acceptable. Certainly our communities, our watersheds, our wildlife habitat, our access to recreation all of these critical Montana treasures are at real risk to wildfire.”

In the hearing, Tidwell predicted a “90 percent chance” that the Forest Service will not have enough money to fund wildfire suppression this Fiscal Year and will have to transfer funds in order to do so.

“It is really past time for us to find a solution and be able to move on and stop this disruptive practice of shutting down operations in the fall to be able to transfer money,”Tidwell stated. “I think that it is no question that one percent – this concept of one percent of our fires should be considered natural disasters and again last year the ten largest fires, the ten most costly fires equaled about over 20 millions dollars.”

Daines also welcomed Dr. Sharon Hood, Post-Doctoral Researcher, College of Forestry and Conservation from the University of Montana who testified before the Committee today on the importance of combining controlled prescribed fires and thinning to address beetle kill and reduce the risk of wildfire. Hood noted, “In order to increase the health of our forest, thinning should definitely be a good management tool.”

Last month, Daines met with Montana sportsmen, Forest Service officials, and other key stakeholders to discuss the importance of reforming how wildfire suppression is funded within the U.S. Forest Service. The Helena Independent Record’s article on Daines’ wildfire discussion is available here.

Daines is a cosponsor of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which overhauls federal wildfire policy, increases funding for prevention and ensures large forest fires are treated and funded as true natural disasters. This legislation ends the damaging practice of “fire borrowing” and ensures that megafires are treated as true natural disasters. Daines’ release on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is available here.

Daines has been working to move forward common sense forest management reforms to responsibly increase timber harvests, create good-paying jobs and improve forest health across Montana.