Tester Brings Conservationists and Timber Workers Together to Highlight Wildfire Funding Fix

Senator: Finally We Can Treat Wildfires like the Natural Disasters they are

(Missoula, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester brought conservationists and timber workers together in Missoula to highlight his wildfire funding fix following a catastrophic fire season.

Montana’s 2017 fire season burned 1.36 million acres of land and cost more than $400 million, eating up more than half of the Forest Service’s budget. Tester used his position as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure a long-term wildfire funding fix last month so the federal government can pay to fight wildfire like other natural disasters and free up more resources for active forest management.

“It’s been a long fight, but finally we can treat wildfires like the natural disasters they are,” Tester said. “I was proud to partner with conservationists and timber workers to pass common-sense legislation that will free up dollars for the Forest Service to conduct more timber projects and better maintain our trails.”

Tester was joined at his roundtable discussion by representatives from the Forest Service, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, and the Montana Forest Collaborative Network.

Prior to Tester’s wildfire funding fix, unlike other natural disasters, funding to fight wildfires didn’t come from FEMA. Firefighting costs on federal lands came directly from the Forest Service budget. Firefighting has become a drain on the Forest Service, taking up 56 percent of its budget in 2017 compared to 16 percent of its budget in 1994. This has forced the Forest Service to repeatedly borrow money from management accounts to pay to fight wildfire.

Tester’s wildfire funding fix will make an addition $500 million available for fire spending in 2018 and 2019, which is in line with predicted fire costs. In 2020, it will set a cap on the amount that the Forest Service must spend and if costs exceed that limit they will have access to emergency funding used for other natural disasters, like tornados and hurricanes. These funds will give the Forest Service the resources and certainty they need to better manage forests.

Tester and the group also discussed a provision he secured in the major government funding bill last month that will cut red tape and pave the way for more timber projects, trail maintenance, and conservation efforts.