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Montana's senators, congressman highlight wildfire devastation on national stage

Montana's senators, congressman highlight wildfire devastation on national stage

From the From campaign controversies to the body slam: A year in Montana politics series
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U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester took to the Senate floor Wednesday to bring attention to the wildfires burning across Montana.

Tester linked fires to a historic drought that's blasted Eastern Montana and extended to the west.

"Climate change is real, and we can't continue to sit on the sidelines," he said "We have to take proactive steps to keep it at bay."

Tester also cited powerful hurricanes, and a $7.85 billion aid package to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, which inundated large swaths of Texas in historic floods.

"I am all for sending help to those folks," he said. "I will be making sure that the folks in this body understand that we also have to get resources to folks along the northern tier. ... We are seeing natural disasters across this country. This isn't a contest or comparison of devastation."

Daines focused much of his speech advocating for increased logging, and railing against lawsuits from environmental advocacy groups challenging logging projects. 

"Preventing wildfires is impossible," he said. "But we can do much more to lessen the severity and impact of these fires. ... The mismanagement of our federal forests and these radical environmentalists have prevented hardworking Montanans from having jobs, and this just adds more fuel, literally, to these wildfires." 

Daines didn't cite climate change, but did reference the "unspeakable amount of carbon emissions that are produced by these wildfires."

He also noted a long-term weather outlook calling for a hot and dry September in Montana.

"This fire season is not over," he said. 

Neither Tester nor Daines referenced an extensive body of research showing that decades of fire suppression policies have created ripe conditions for more intense wildfires. 

Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte released the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday to provide $7.85 billion to help with relief and recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey:

“Our hearts go out to the people of Houston and to all affected by Hurricane Harvey, which has left catastrophic damage in its wake. This funding represents an important first step to help Americans devastated by the hurricane as they work to recover and rebuild."

He followed that by also highlighting Montana's devastating fire season, calling it a "massive disaster."

“Hundreds of thousands of acres burn, jeopardizing the livelihood of hardworking Montanans," he said. "Ash rains down on our homes and schools. Poor air quality threatens the health and well-being of Montanans, particularly our children and elderly."

Gianforte pledged to stand for Montana, fighting for wildfire relief and forest management reform.

“My door is always open to Montanans, and I encourage them to reach out to my office for help with federal agencies as we face this disaster together," he said.

Fires have burned more than 1 million acres across Montana, charring dozens of structures, including a historic chalet in Glacier National Park, and resulting in the deaths of two firefighters battling blazes. Wildfire smoke has blanketed much of the state and Pacific Northwest, with ash falling as far away as Seattle. It's been the worst fire season since 2012, when 1.2 million acres burned. 

The Houston aid package is expected to help the more than one million people the historic storm and flooding displaced. The hurricane's death toll has risen to 70 people, and officials expect to find more bodies. 

More than 185,000 homes have been damaged or destroyed, many of which were not insured against flooding. Ten refineries that combined to produce about 17 percent of the U.S. refining capacity shut down. 

Harvey dumped more than 51 inches of rain in one area, a record for a storm in the continental U.S. 


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