Senator Jon Tester is calling on the U.S. Forest Service to quickly rebuild hundreds of miles of National Forest fencing recently destroyed by Montana's record wildfires.
Tester said that without fencing, ranchers cannot control their herds and that thousands of animals are roaming onto private property. Fires across southeast Montana have affected 256 miles of private fence bordering Custer National Forest and 151 miles of National Forest fencing.
Tester wants the Forest Service to prioritize its available resources to rebuild the fences, as well as watering tanks and other grazing infrastructure located on Forest Service property.
"Production agriculture is Montana's largest economic driver and depends on this infrastructure," Tester wrote Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "Assuring that proper resources are directed to recover these burned lands is critically important."
Official fire season does not start in Montana until August 1, but wildland fires have already burned more than 500,000 acres across the state -- nearly twice the normal total for an entire year.
Tester noted that wildfires also destroyed nearly 190 miles of fence and nine stock tanks on Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
Tester, a dry-land farmer from Big Sandy, recently joined with fellow Montana Senator Max Baucus to cut through red tape to help Montana agriculture producers hit by drought and wildfire and to secure emergency haying and grazing resources for farmers and ranchers in eight Montana counties.
Tester is the Senate's only active farmer. His letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell is available below and online HERE.
July 17, 2012
Mr. Tom Tidwell
Chief, U.S. Forest Service
United States Department of Agriculture
Sidney R. Yates Building
201 14th Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20014
Dear Chief Tidwell:
The official fire season in Montana has yet to commence yet already thousands of Montanans have been impacted by wild land fires which have consumed more than 500,000 acres mostly in southeastern Montana. This is nearly twice the number of acres burned annually. These fires not only destroyed people's homes and out buildings, they also demolished agricultural infrastructure, including fences and stock tanks, and destroyed animal feed. Production agriculture is Montana's largest economic driver and depends on this critical infrastructure.
The South East Montana Complex, primarily the Ash Creek Fire, impacted 256 miles of private fence that border the Custer National Forest and 151 miles of internal fencing in the Custer National Forest. Nearly 190 miles of fence and nine stock tanks on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation were also impacted. Without this fencing, at least 9,381 livestock are impacting riparian areas and straying onto private property. Assuring that proper resources are directed to recover these burned lands is critically important.
The Forest Service has various funds available to help rebuild fences, watering tanks and other grazing infrastructure located on Forest Service property. I encourage you to focus Range Betterment, Burned Area Emergency Response and Watershed Protection dollars to rebuild this infrastructure and prevent the spread of noxious weeds on these lands.
For Montana livestock producers this is a crisis. As other Department of Agriculture resources become available, I trust you will work within USDA to coordinate response to this disaster. I also trust you will leverage your dollars wisely, partnering with state, county, and private programs to direct dollars to achieve the 50-50 cost share, thus increasing the impact of Forest Service programs.
Thank you for considering my request and I look forward to working with you to secure the needed funds to rebuild.