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A “Burning” Question for MT – is $40 Million Enough to Fight Fires?

December 31, 2007

Missoula, MT – This summer's wildfires may be out, but Montana is left with a $43 million tab for fighting them, according to a state legislative report. That's nearly $30 million more than the average costs in previous years.

Bill Geer with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership explains that decades of aggressive fire-fighting mean fires burn hotter and longer, but he says finger-pointing can overshadow the facts.

"We can blame government; we can blame the president; we can blame each other, I guess. But the fact is that we live in a fire-adapted landscape."

Geer supports fire policies that allow nature to take its course in some backcountry areas. However, while letting some fires burn naturally makes scientific sense, he says it may be difficult to stay committed to that course when temperatures rise and smoke blankets the valleys for weeks.

"We can talk about it intellectually, because there is a need for fire to restore habitat, but there's also a point where the folks say, 'I can't take any more smoke.'"

More than 740,000 Montana acres burned in 2007, which Geer says is considered slightly more than average. Surplus funds will be used to cover this year's increased costs, and another and $40 million dollars has been set aside for next year. Details of state firefighting costs can be viewed online, at: http://leg.mt.gov.

Deborah Smith/John Robinson, Public News Service - MT