The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Michael Burns
Representing the Right 

Montana's Inferno

 

August 9, 2017



In Northeastern Montana, over 50,000 acres of prairie, farming and ranch land are ablaze. Additionally, throughout the state, hundreds of thousands of acres are combating growing wildfire daily. Stakes are rising and funding is dropping in a race against the clock to halt Montana’s most pre-eminent natural disaster.

The perfect kindling was piled up late last year for the current predicament; not for a cozy fire but for an unstoppable, costly blaze. Governor Steve Bullock proposed cutting 25 million dollars from the state’s wildfire fund. This move was highly criticized and luckily was rejected. But this attitude crept into the budget and Bullock signed off on a budget that would cut the wildfire fund in half if Montana revenues fell below expectations. The projected revenues fell much shorter than predicted, in large part to lower commodity prices, and as a result the wildfire fund was cut by approximately 30 million dollars.

This was a dangerous gamble and with minimal federal help currently, bets should have been hedged. As each day passes, 1.5 million dollars is spent fighting the fires. On top of labor and equipment costs, millions more is lost in property damage and public health. Sadly, the fires have also taken two lives - two men firefighting in Lolo National Park.

Montana is the most critical fire-danger zone in the country, with twice as many fires as the next highest state but almost all of its wildfire fund has been purged. Three million dollars remain with no extinguishing of the fire in sight. Fortunately, more help is coming. Thirty-four crews from other states have joined the fight against the raging fires.

But 600 square miles of inferno are lit. Ranchers have moved livestock out of fenced areas to safety and hundreds of Montanans have been evacuated from their homes in state of emergency declared by the governor.

2017 should be the final warning to the Bullock administration that has slept for far too long on such a critical issue. Our governor is the chair of the National Governor’s Association and has been vocal about elevating Montana on the national stage. He can not let this go unaddressed again. Montana runs like a well oiled machine. Its budget is lean and mean and we are famous for operating within our resources by state constitutional mandate. Surprisingly, this is a gaping blind spot for a usually responsible state.

Putting more money in the wildfire fund isn’t just responsible but a smart investment that pays for itself. Next session it is imperative that enough funding is set aside for all outcomes of fire relief, from miniscule to momentous. Truthfully, there are few matters that hold as much priority as the state protecting its people and property from literally being set on fire. Bullock’s bark needs to go from baritone to bass to relieve and prevent future Montana blaze.

 

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