Daines, Feinstein planning forest health bill to reduce fire hazards

Sens. Steve Daines and Diane Feinstein are teaming up to craft legislation expanding the removal of dead and dying trees on national forests while accelerating post-fire planting. (USFS Photo)

With an eye on reducing catastrophic wildfires, Sens. Steve Daines and Diane Feinstein are teaming up to craft legislation expanding the removal of dead and dying trees on national forests while accelerating post-fire planting.

In Missoula on Friday, Daines described the legislation as a bipartisan means of reducing the risk of catastrophic fires and reversing the inevitability that such fires will only get worse without action.

They plan to introduce the measure this fall.

“This is what it’s going to take,” Daines said. “A Democrat from California and a Republican from Montana – that’s the kind of bipartisan cooperation we’re going to need to actually achieve an outcome.”

A joint letter released by the two senators this week suggested that past fire seasons in both Montana and California have brought “unspeakable loss and grief” to local communities, including the town of Paradise, Calif.

The legislation looks to improve forest management by removing woody biomass and dead and dying trees. It would also accelerate the logging of overgrown forests where fires are most likely to start.

“Our bipartisan bill will take concrete, meaningful steps to improve forest health and address the worsening threat that catastrophic wildfires pose to our communities,” the two lawmakers wrote. “Millions of acres of forests in our states and across the West remain at high risk of catastrophic wildfires, and there is strong consensus that fire seasons will only get worse.”

Montana has seen several intense fire seasons in recent years, including 2017, a year that saw the state socked in by smoke for an entire summer.

In California, the Camp fire in Paradise last year remains the nation’s deadliest fire since 1918. The blaze killed 85 civilians and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures. It caused an estimated $16 billion damage.

“I think what’s driven Sen. Feinstein has been some of the absolutely horrific fire seasons in California,” said Daines. “This is a good time to get a message out that we’ve got to make some changes. What we’ve proposed here is a very common sense approach with bipartisan cooperation that reduces the risk of wildfires.”

Also this week, Sen. Jon Tester said he and other members of Congress will be watching the Forest Service to see how it allocates funding and resources under a new spending package passed last year.

That includes funds designated for fire suppression and ensuring the agency properly leases the assets it needs to do the job.

“We’re going to make sure the Forest Service has done the proper leasing to make sure we’ve got air assets and ground assets available throughout the country when fire springs up,” Tester told the Missoula Current. “We’re going to be monitoring that as we move forward, and we’ll be holding people accountable along the way.”