Support for Wildfire Disaster Funding Act

Bitterroot Star

by Senator Jon Tester

In Montana we are entering a new season. No, I am not talking about summer—I am talking about wildfire season. Increasingly severe fire seasons threaten our forests in Ravalli County, our wildlife, our communities, and our health. This needs to be taken seriously.

Fire seasons are getting more aggressive and bizarre weather patterns are increasing our exposure to smoke from wildfires across the west.

These longer and more complex seasons, combined with a badly broken framework for wildfire budgeting, are turning the Forest Service into a firefighting agency, undermining its role as a land manager.

Over half of the Forest Service budget is being used to prepare for and fight fires, leaving budget shortfalls for all of the other important work like trail maintenance, timber harvest, research, and many other management activities. If we don’t act now, it is expected that by year 2025 more than two-thirds of the Forest Service’s budget will be spent putting out wildfires.

That’s why I’ve joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to introduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act to treat catastrophic wildfires more like a flood, hurricane or tornado. This would allow the Forest Service to spend less money fighting fires and more money maintaining the trails we all treasure. It would give certainty to the agency, while continuing to ensure the brave folks who are firefighting have the tools they need to get the job done.

These men and women who suit up and head into the Bitterroot National Forest are heroes. Seasonal firefighters play a vital role in keeping Montana communities safe and protecting our national forests, and they deserve the opportunity to compete for permanent employment in the federal workforce.

That’s why I wrote and passed the Land Management Workforce Flexibility Act – to guarantee that these brave seasonal federal employees, like firefighters, have the opportunity for career advancement in the federal workforce. These men and women already have the skills and they should have the chance to further their careers and land a permanent job.

While we all pray that we have a safe and mild fire season in the Bitterroot, I will be working hard to ensure the folks on the ground have the tools they need in case disaster strikes.

Sen. Jon Tester

Washington DC