Tester pushes for transfer of firefighting equipment to Montana

Senator pushes feds to prepare Montana for upcoming fire season

(U.S. Senate)-After wildfires burned more than 350,000 acres across Montana in 2015, Senator Jon Tester is pushing top Forest Service and Air Force leaders to transfer additional firefighting equipment to the Montana Air National Guard.

In a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Air Force Secretary Deborah James, Tester urged the agency to reassign the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFs) units that are currently used by the Air National Guard’s 145th Airlift Wing in Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Montana Air National Guard’s 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls.

“Our wildfire seasons are getting more intense and we must be prepared to protect Montana communities from the rapidly growing threat of wildfire,” Tester said. “By transferring these units to Montana we will ensure folks on the ground can safely and effectively keep us safe.”

MAFFs units can be loaded onto a C-130 to drop fire retardant and help fight wildfires in rugged terrain. Currently, the Montana Air National Guard’s fleet of C-130s are equipped for MAFFs and the unit already has personnel trained to operate and maintain the equipment.

Over the past 20 years, firefighters have fought 10 wildfires in Montana that have burned more than 100,000 acres. Given Montana’s history of intense wildfire seasons there is a need for additional equipment.

In 2015, wildfire related costs consumed more than half of the Forest Service’s budget, shifting resources away from timber harvests, conservation, and recreation. It is estimated that by 2025, wildfire costs could consume up to two-thirds of the Forest Service budget.

Tester is sponsoring the bipartisan Wildlife Disaster Funding Act to pay for catastrophic wildfires through separate emergency funding, freeing up more resources to better manage the forest.

Tester’s letters to Tidwell and James are available HERE.