Wildfires were still burning in Montana in August of 2007 when Governor Brian Schweitzer called in the state legislature to put more money into fire fighting.
Lawmakers also created a special committee on fire suppression, and that group spent a year studying the subject. Among its recommendations is one designed to pick a fight with the U.S. Forest Service.
"We could have another 1910 fire kind of a situation develop and we have to try and get the ability to go in and take care of this," said Montana state Senator, Dave Lewis. "It's too dangerous to ignore."
Now, Lewis wants to put hazardous forest fuels in the same category as junk cars or trash piles. In legal terms, as a source of community decay. He also wants to give county governments the ability to deal with the problem directly.
"It basically says that counties can go onto federal land and determine that it's a risk to the community and go in and clean up the fire hazard," Lewis said.
Lewis recognizes that if his bill becomes law, it would almost guarantee a challenge in federal court, and he's fine with that.
"I think we've got a pretty good case. I mean we're saying when we can't go in and stop and remove a hazard that might lead to loss of life or property for private citizens in the state, there's something wrong with that. We need to have a chance to go in and correct the problem."
Lewis is not the only lawmaker to put wildfire-related bills into the hopper for 2009. As of Tuesday, 27 other bills have been introduced, and another 16 have been submitted to legislative services, including one to set up a pilot program to reduce fuels on state land in the so-called wildland-urban interface.
And another to counties to assess property taxes, or create special improvement districts specifically for fuel reduction projects.
The Fire Suppression Committee also wants lawmakers to tell the federal government to do more regarding forest fuels. One resolution asks Congress to give the governor the power to declare a fuel crisis on federal lands, and then require federal agencies to respond.
HERE is a link to an article on the Earth Island Institute site about the role of fire in the ecosystem and how landowners should be managing fire.
Thanks, Dick, for the tip.