Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Friday that the state and federal governments need to better manage forests to reduce the risk and severity of wildfires.
Daines pushed that message at a roundtable discussion at the Baxter Hotel in Bozeman along with members of the Senate Western Caucus and other agencies across the state.
Daines apologized to the group inside the hotel for the haze that covered the view of the Bridger Mountains because of wildfire smoke. Years ago, he said, if you came to Montana in August the horizon was clear. That was around the same time the state had about 30 active sawmills, Daines said, noting that there were only eight in Montana now.
“That probably says it all,” Daines told the crowd. “We’re not doing the active forest management like we used to.”
The Republican senator brought the caucus to Bozeman for a “hands-on” approach and to hear input on issues like the farm bill, agriculture production, national park maintenance backlogs and natural resource development. Several groups attended the meeting including the Montana Mining Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Montana Farm Bureau Federation and Boone and Crockett Club.
Before the meeting, Daines held a press conference and touted a familiar line about forest management: “Either we are going to manage our forests or our forests are going to manage us.” He said smoke seen floating over Bozeman was an example of how forests are managing us.
“We’ll never eliminate wildfires, but we can reduce the risk and severity of wildfires by better management of our forests,” he said before the meeting.
Congressman Bruce Westerman, R-Arkansas, also talked to press before the roundtable discussion. Westerman is a member of the caucus and touted himself as the only forester in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He said forest management was science that involved three different ingredients: fuel, oxygen and heat. He said while we can’t do a lot about oxygen and heat, we could eliminate some fuel by better managing our forests.
Westerman said there’s no downside to healthy forests, noting benefits like clean air and water, better wildlife habitat and a boost to the economy through logging. But he said we’ve loved the trees in our forest to death.
“We love our forest so much that we’ve quit managing them,” Westerman said. “They’ve been mismanaged for three or four decades, and it’s going to take time to get them back to where they’re resilient and healthy.”
In a phone interview after the meeting, Mike Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said there was no science that supported logging reduces wildfires in the forests. Garrity said all logging did was waste taxpayer money.
“What the science has found is that a lot of time logging just makes it worse,” he said.
Garrity said logging areas tend to be hotter because more sunlight is hitting the ground, which makes the land more susceptible to catching fire. Two years in a row, Garrity said, we’ve had very dry and hot summers and when that happens there are fires.
“If they really want to do something about it they should start figuring out ways to fight global warming,” he said.