Montana’s crisis isn’t too much water or hurricanes – it’s fire. It’s smoke filling Big Sky Country and filling our lungs, communities being evacuated, structures lost and tons of fuels just lying on the forest floor waiting for a spark to ignite. In this year alone, over 1,600 fires have burned over 1 million acres in Montana -- that’s nearly equivalent to the entirety of the state of Delaware being on fire.
We are tired of being told that others know better than us while we watch our forests and grasslands burn every summer, our mills close, our neighbors lose jobs and our communities suffer from the lack of management of our federal public lands.
Too many forest management projects have been held up in frivolous litigation from radical environmentalists at our expense. One such project, the Stonewall project in both Powell and Lewis and Clark Counties, was halted and became fuel for two fires that blazed on the very lands that were set to be managed. Our inability to act and treat these acres further deteriorates the health of our forests and the communities that rely on them.
We need litigation relief and we need to cut red tape to get these projects done! The current process has become so bogged down with bureaucracy and litigation that some projects take years to get through, and others never even make it. In the meantime, the forests continue to get more and more overgrown, unhealthy and prone to wildfire.
A properly managed forest is a safer and healthier forest. It’s also good for wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation and minimizing the unspeakable amount of carbon emissions produced by wildfires. And timber jobs are good jobs. We’re done listening to radical environmentalists when they tell us otherwise.
Mineral County was founded in 1914 and has a long history of being a community that thrives off of the abundant resources surrounding them. The county is home to just over 4,000 Montanans.
The first of many sawmills came to the area around the turn of the 20th century. For decades, the timber industry thrived -- Montanans worked hard and earned good money in the timber industry, but in the early 1990’s things changed. Across our state, environmental lawsuits became a barrier to timber contracts that were awarded to Montana small businesses.
A community that once thrived on the abundant resources surrounding them now sits with one of the highest unemployment rates in our state.
Today, Mineral County has just a single lumber mill and folks there today are watching the very resources that supported their grandparents, burn. So far, over 25,000 acres have been torched in Mineral County this fire season and the fires continue to grow.
As your United States Senator, I will work with anyone, of any party, and at all levels of government to ensure that forests are managed in a way that reduces the severity of wildfires because Montanans deserve it, the firefighters risking their lives out there deserve it -- and because it makes practical sense.
The bottom line is this: either we manage the forests, or the forests are going to manage us.
Steve Daines, a Republican, is a U.S. Senator for Montana.