MISSOULA — Attention is once again turning to a legislative solution to wildfires as the Northern Rockies fire season winds down, and California's rages on.
MTN News takes a closer look at the proposals being floated by U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). Whether it's logging projects to thin the forest or other measures like prescribed burns, Daines continues to press for what he calls "sound forest management."
"The Forest Service has been clear and they stated we need to increase the treatment acreages by two to five times versus where we're at today," Daines said. "The Biden administration actually moved to decrease our timber harvest targets in Region 1."
Daines currently has three bills in the Senate. The "FIRESHEDS Act" would allow governors to enter joint agreements with land management agencies, designating lands of high fire risk as "fireshed management areas", and protect fuel reduction projects from lawsuits.
Another bill seeks to "fix" the 9th Circuit Court's controversial "Cottonwood Decision", a year's long case started over Canada Lynx habitat used as a basis for two dozen lawsuits, and threats of many more, to stop forest projects.
"The legislation I have put forward is exactly what the Obama administration wanted to fix back when President Obama was in office. We need to do that. I've been involved this issue for a lot of years until we stop the frivolous litigation. We're never going to get to where we need to be here in terms of treatment of our national forests." - US Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT)
Finally, "The Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act" would establish a pilot arbitration program to protect collaborative forest projects.
"Many of you have been involved in these collaborations that we worked together between stakeholders to approve a timber project -- only to be litigated against by just one or two groups," Daines said. "In fact, in Region 1 there are 14 projects held up in court as we speak here today."
Daines contends those lawsuits are the biggest obstacles to better management of national forest lands and stopping wildfires. He notes 230 million board feet of timber in Montana is in limbo because of legal action.
Last year, a more comprehensive bill co-sponsored with California Senator Diane Feinstein didn't make it through a turbulent Congress. But the West continues to burn, driven by record temperatures and drought.
Daines told MTN News the key is getting lawmakers from other states here to see forest management first hand. However, he says fire smoke clouding Washington skies is getting attention too.
"Yeah, well it, it's pretty humbling, the satellite imagery and you see these huge wildfires where there's smoke literally now as coast to coast. We need to bring them out and see what's happening on the front lines and also to see what a managed forest looks like," said Daines.
"When you go in and thin the forest, You see an improvement of wildlife habitat, protecting watersheds, providing jobs for loggers and sawmills. A lot of good things happen when you manage your forests, and most importantly, you reduce wildfire risk," he concluded.