Elk NetworkDaines: Either We Manage the Forests or the Forests are Going to Manage Us

Conservation | September 7, 2017

U.S. SENATE — U.S. Senator Steve Daines today took to the Senate floor to raise awareness and draw attention to the fires burning in Montana.

Daines remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. President –

“I left Montana early yesterday morning to be back here to Washington, D.C. to do the work of the American people, but as always my heart remains in Big Sky Country.

“That’s especially true right now as fires burn across our state. In fact, just yesterday of top 30 wildfires in the nation, 28 of those 30 wildfires were in Montana. Our crisis in Montana isn’t water, it’s not too much water, it’s not hurricanes – it’s fire.

“It’s smoke filling the air and filling our lungs – it’s communities being evacuated, Montanans standing on the side of the road looking at the fires moving towards their homes and we’ve seen the loss of homes and many structures and looking at the 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 nearly 1 million acres have in Montana – that’s nearly the size of the entire state of Delaware.

“At my invitation, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke both came to Montana two weeks ago so they could see first-hand the impact wildfires are having on our great state – we went out and saw the Lolo Peak Fire. And the impact is devastating.

“We need to ensure Montana gets the resources it needs to stop the fires. I am grateful to the men and women who are risking their lives to fight these fires going on virtually little sleep, living in tents, fighting these fires. The firefighters battling on the ground are away from their families and giving their all to protect our lives, lands and property.

“ Tragically, already in Montana two firefighters have lost their lives Trenton Johnson, 19 and Brent Witham, 29.

“Preventing wildfires is impossible, but we can do much more to lessen their severity and impact.

“Seven million federally controlled acres in Montana are at a high risk of wildfire. Five million acres have been designated for accelerated management due to insect infestation and disease. And yet, since 1990, Montana has lost over 40 percent of its forestry workforce and two-thirds of its mills.

“Let’s talk about Mineral County, Montana. Mineral County was founded in 1914. The county is home to just over 4,000 Montanans and is well known for its dense forests and abundant resources.

“The first sawmill came to the area around the turn of the 20th century – with multiple others following suit. 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 burn.

“Mismanagement of our federal forests and radical environmentalists that have prevented hardworking Montanans from having jobs has added fuel after fuel to wildfires. Our inability to act and treat these acres further deteriorates the health of our forests and the communities that rely on them.

“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.

“A safe forest is a managed forest. A healthy forest is a managed forest. And timber jobs are good jobs. A properly managed forest is also good for wildlife habitat, water quality, recreation, and minimizing the unspeakable amount of carbon emissions produced by wildfires. We’re done listening to radical environmentalists when they tell us otherwise.

“Too many forest management projects have been held up in frivolous litigation at the expense of Montanans. One such project, the Stonewall project, was halted because of the terrible Cottonwood decision, the 21st Century poster child for radical environmental activism. Two fires blazed on the very lands that were set to be managed had it not been for these environmental radicals. This is wrong!

“We need litigation relief.

“We need to reform the process that our land managers go through to get these projects done!  The National Environmental Policy Act – NEPA – was established to provide guidance for land managers to analyze all project alternatives and allow for public comment.  This process has become so bogged down with additional steps and litigation that some projects take years to get through. Others never even make it!

“When it takes this long to analyze whether or not to even start a project, the forests continue to get more and more overstocked, unhealthy and prone to wildfire.  Something needs to be done to streamline the process while allowing more collaboration between stakeholders.  We cannot wait any longer.

“We need our colleagues to come to the table because we need comprehensive forest management reform now. How many more thousands of acres in Montana and all over the West must burn before we act? Tying the hands of the state and local folks who best know these lands has not served us well – we need to change course.

“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, Montanans are tired of seeing and breathing the smoke – the firefighters risking their lives out there deserve it – and because, quite frankly, it makes sense.

“The bottom line: either we manage the forests, or the forests are going to manage us.

“It is time we put the loggers of Montana back to work.

“I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort.