As Congress debates relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy and other natural disasters, Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus are making sure Washington doesn't forget about natural disasters that occur in Montana and the American West.
Tester and Baucus are introducing an amendment to a disaster assistance bill that gives the U.S. Forest Service adequate resources to fight wildfires in 2013 and beyond. Due to the increasing cost of fighting fires, the Forest Service next year faces a budget gap of hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Fire seasons will continue to get worse, and we must protect lives, our homes and our communities," Tester said. "More than one million acres burned across Montana this summer and changing conditions will only lead to more devastation in the years to come. This is the first in a series of necessary and responsible steps to make sure we have the resources needed to protect life and property, and to deal with our changing environment."
"The first major Montana wildfire started nearly a year ago last January, and Montana firefighters worked non-stop through the spring and summer. Yet, when disaster struck on the east coast this fall they were among the first to lend a hand. It just makes sense that any bill to address disasters, includes the support our firefighters deserve," Baucus said.
Tester and Baucus highlighted that over the last 15 years the cost of wildfire suppression has increased fivefold, forcing the Forest Service to borrow money set aside for non-fire purposes such as timber production and watershed restoration.
The Forest Service's firefighting budget is consistently underfunded due to outdated cost models. Tester and Baucus' amendment also requires a study to recommend new ways to predict future wildfire costs.
The 2012 wildfire season was the third-worst fire season in United States history, with more than one million acres burning in Montana. Due to the continuing drought, the 2013 fire season is expected to be just as bad - if not worse - as 2012.
Tester and Baucus' amendment is also cosponsored by Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), whose state experienced some of the worst fires of the 2012 fire season.