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Senate Wildlife Caucus to focus on forest management

by KATE HESTON Daily Inter Lake
| May 30, 2023 7:00 AM

Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced recently the creation of the bipartisan Senate Wildlife Caucus in cooperation with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.

The caucus will focus on forest management reform, wildland firefighter assistance, wildlife recovery efforts and community hardening, according to Daines’ office. The goal of both House and Senate caucus members is to elevate awareness and bipartisan consensus around wildfire management, mitigation, preparedness and recovery.

“Sen. Feinstein and I launched the first bipartisan Senate Wildfire Caucus to bring folks from both sides of the aisle to the table as we discuss common sense policies that will protect our communities from devastating wildfires,” Daines told the Inter Lake.

The caucus has been in the works for the past couple of months, according to Daines’ office. Feinstein, who is co-chair alongside Daines, has been on medical leave from Congress for more than a month, with no indication of when she might return to her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

There have been recent calls for the senator to resign, including from within the Democratic Party, after she missed dozens of Senate votes. Her absence is blamed as a reason for the holdup on President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations.

Daines and Feinstein have worked together on wildfire legislation in the past, but the two joined together this session in an effort to bring more people to the table.

According to a press release from Daines’ office, the caucus will advocate for wildfire related programs, including funding for disaster relief, prevention and mitigation, will share federal relief programs for communities before, during and after wildfire season, and highlight balanced, science-based wildfire management and mitigation proposals in Congress.

The number and extent of wildfires have likely increased since the 1980s. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned in America, all have occurred since 2004, with the peak year being 2015.

In Montana, the extent of land burnt increased by 1.09 acres per square mile in 2002-2020 as compared to the time period between 1984-2001, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Justin Kaber, battalion chief for the Tally Lake Ranger District and a member of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, said he looked forward to seeing what the caucus can accomplish.

Specifically, Kaber mentioned the issue of mental health among firefighters and funding as important topics for the caucus to consider.

“It’s great to see a Montana senator looking out for our contingent,” Kaber said.

A bipartisan Wildfire Caucus has launched in the U.S. House of Representatives as well. The group is chaired by Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, and Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah.

They formed the caucus after the destructive 2020 wildlife season, when Colorado experienced the three largest fires in the state’s history. With the 118th Congress, the caucus has expanded to both branches of the legislature.

“Whether it's supporting our brave wildland firefighters, proposing practical forest management policies or ensuring our communities have the resources they need for recovery efforts, it’s important that we come together to address the dangers of wildfires as Montanans continue to face deadly wildfires season after season,” Daines said.