Tester Secures $576 Million for Wildfire Relief and Forest Management in Disaster Funding Bill

Senator: These Resources Will Help Montana Recover from Record-Breaking Fire Season

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today secured $576 million for wildfire relief and forest management in a major disaster funding bill.

Tester used his position as Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee to replenish the Forest Service accounts that were drained in order to pay to fight wildfires. During a speech on the Senate floor today, Tester underscored the urgent need to replenish these forest management accounts so the Forest Service can salvage timber, remove debris, restore trails and roads, and more actively manage forests after a landmark fire season.

“When the Forest Service has to borrow from its non-fire accounts to cover firefighting on the ground, we lose out on critical maintenance, mitigation, and restoration work,” Tester said. “This funding will pay back those accounts, and support the work that is needed to recover after a record-breaking fire season. This funding can restore trails and roads that were lost to fire, as well as keep our fishing streams clean and clear from runoff.”

Fighting wildfires in Montana has this year burned more than 1.2 million acres and cost $386 million. Wildfires across the country have burned nearly 9 million acres.

The intense wildfire season once again forced the Forest Service to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars from forest management accounts to pay for fire suppression. The cost of fighting wildfires has dramatically increased from 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget in 1995 to over 50 percent today.

Tester emphasized that fire borrowing is leaving the Forest Service underfunded and without certainty to actively manage forests, maintain roads and trails, and mitigate fire risks. During his floor speech, Tester pushed the Senate to move forward with his bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act to provide a long-term funding fix for the Forest Service by ending fire borrowing and funding catastrophic wildfires the same way as other natural disasters.

“Money that should be used to curb fire risks, maintain and improve forest health, research and develop better forest management policies, and fund the work that must get done to make our forests more resilient is borrowed to fight wildfires,” Tester added. “We must change the way we pay for fighting wildfires and the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is one step toward that fix.”

Tester’s Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee is responsible for emergency disaster funding. Also included in the disaster funding bill were resources for the Gulf Coast, Florida, and Puerto Rico to help recover from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

The disaster funding bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote. It will now go to President Trump’s desk for signature.