Tester pushes Forest Service chief to ‘get folks working in the woods’

Senator questions former Montanan Gail Kimbell during Senate hearing

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today pushed the chief of the U.S. Forest Service to “get folks working in the woods” during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill.

This morning Gail Kimbell testified before Tester’s influential Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the Forest Service.

Today’s hearing examined next year’s Forest Service budget proposal, which includes a $134 million increase to fight wildfires nationwide.  The recently passed jobs-stimulus bill is investing an additional $250 million in wildland fire management.

Tester pushed Kimbell to make sure that the jobs-stimulus money will be used to create local jobs while managing wildfire risk.

“I want the guy with the chainsaw in northwestern Montana to go back to work doing what’s responsible to manage our forests,” said Tester, who helped write and voted for the jobs-stimulus bill earlier this year.

Kimbell assured Tester that the Forest Service’s priority for that money is to create “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Nearly half of the Forest Service’s $5.2 billion budget proposed for next year is dedicated to fighting and preventing wildfires.  Tester wants to make sure the money is adequate for fighting fire as well as managing dry, beetle-killed trees in Montana.

“We need an offense and a defense when it comes to fire,” Tester said.  “If we put folks to work limiting fire danger now, we won’t burn up the entire budget fighting fires later.”

Tester said adequately funding wildfire suppression and management is a long-term challenge.  He is a sponsor of the FLAME Act, which would establish a special fund to help pay for emergency firefighting efforts during catastrophic fires.

Gail Kimbell served as regional forester for the Forest Service’s Northern Region between 2003 and 2007.  Working in Missoula, she oversaw Forest Service land in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota.  Kimbell was named Chief of the Forest Service in February of 2007.

The jobs-stimulus bill is investing more than $1.1 billion in jobs and infrastructure Montana, including $48 million for National Forests in the state.