Tester pushes bills to help Forest Service


 MISSOULA, Mont. – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester wants to solve financial problems in the Forest Service. USFS officials say too much money goes to fighting fires and not fixing trails.

Tester is pushing what he calls a western wildfire initiative. Three measures are aimed at making it easier for people in wildfire season.

Tester wants to help crews once they’re off the front lines. One bill would give temporary firefighters the opportunity to compete for vacant federal jobs. Supporters say they’re not thought of first for permanent jobs.

“Air support is a key component to of wildland firefighting, but it’s the boots on the ground, it is the firefighter on the ground that actually puts the fire out,” says Bob Beckley with USFS.

Tester’s also backing two other bills.

“These are common-sense pieces of legislature that I think work well, not only for Montana, but the Forest Service and states, particularly in the West,” said Tester.

Another bill would give money to communities hit hard by wildfires.

The third would let the Forest Service spend more money on improving park trails and timber harvest.

Last year 52 percent of the USFS budget went to fighting wildfires, compared with 16 percent 20 years ago.