Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire—and a Bill to Pay
Wildfire is nothing new to Montanans. However, in recent history the prevalence and severity of these fires has intensified leaving a wake of destruction and years of rehabilitation in their path. Fighting these fires and mopping up the mess is becoming increasingly expensive as well. That cost is something Montana Farm Bureau members need to think about before the 2019 Legislative Session.
State lawmakers are considering expanding Montana’s fire protection fee to all landowners in the state. Currently, landowners in the wild-land urban interface, mostly in the western part of the state, pay an annual fee that funds fire prevention activities, like firefighter training, equipment purchases and maintenance, and fire detection and prevention. The fee starts at $45 per parcel. Parcels larger than 20 acres pay an additional 27 cents per acre. That adds up to roughly $3.6 million a year, which generates approximately 1/3 of the fire preparedness budget.
However, the 2017 fire season reflected the statewide nature of the problem. Montana had fires in all of its 56 counties last summer, while only western landowners were paying the fire assessment fee. The Environmental Quality Council (EQC) has been discussing how to make the fire assessment fee more equitable during the interim by extending the fees across Montana.
EQC will be considering three various funding proposals at their upcoming meeting September 12-13th.
Sen. Chas Vincent authored the first proposal which places a base fee per parcel on all land outside of cities, while an additional fee would be placed (per parcel) if it’s forested land or has a dwelling on site. These fees would amass to $4.5 million in fire preparedness funds, while $1.5 million would go towards an aviation equipment replacement fund. You can read Sen. Vincent’s bill draft here. Another draft will consider acres rather than parcels, while the third draft will include a 25% contribution of the base fee from cities and towns.
MFBF has no policy direction on the issue, but will certainly need it as EQC will presumably bring one of these proposals to the 2019 Legislature. We won’t know which proposal the committee will select until after their September meeting. However, it’s something Farm Bureau members should be considering now and discussing what our policy position should be.
As you develop policy in the coming weeks it’s important to discuss how we, as an organization, feel about fire suppression funding. Do Farm Bureau members find value in funding fire-preparedness? Do you feel you’re already paying your fair share? Here are a few resources that may help you create potential policy.
The Fire Suppression Fund is statutorily appropriated to cover fire costs including both wildfire protection and wildfire mitigation. The Montana Department of Natural Resources may also use up to $5 million per biennium for fuel reduction and forest restoration. More information here.
This resource shares highlights of fire suppression funding in Montana.
Montana Fire Preparedness Assessment—a private forest landowner perspective. Peter Kolb, MSU Extension Forestry Specialist and Associate Professor Forest Ecology & Management, University of Montana.
For more information, contact Liv Stavick; firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-587-3153.
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