Fire is a bipartisan problem, it should involve a bipartisan solution

May 12, 2022 12:19 pm

A plane from Billings drops fire retardant in Rosebud County on Aug. 12, 2021 [Photo courtesy of Rosebud County Sheriffs Office]

Fire season has already started in the southwest, as Arizona and New Mexico suffer from wildfires magnified by climate disruption, a lack of forest thinning and planned burning. In Montana, we’re in our spring burning season as landowners both public and private burn piles of slash and conduct broadcast burns to prepare for our own fire season.

Thanks to Sen. Jon Tester’s dedicated efforts to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill last November, every state and agency now has money to do much more thinning and burning, as well as reforestation after severe fires. Yes, in addition to roads, trails and bridges, the infrastructure bill is investing in our natural infrastructure, our forests, and putting people to work accomplishing essential work. The money is phenomenally important for us to reduce the intensity and severity of wildfires in our forests.

Keeping our forests mostly green after a wildfire is very important to maintain the forests’ ability to capture and store carbon while providing watershed protection, wildlife habitat, and wood products that can be used in place of steel, concrete, aluminum, and other fossil fuel intensive construction materials. These are all essential wins for both mitigating and adapting to hotter, drier summers.

Tester also ensured that the infrastructure bill includes funds to support the production of biochar, a product that stores carbon for hundreds to thousands of years and helps our soil store more water and nutrients. Biochar can help Montana’s farmers and ranchers adapt to more frequent and severe droughts. Tester has listened to his constituents, and he has delivered for them.

In this era of hyper partisanship, the passage of significant legislation is no small feat. The infrastructure bill passed with 13 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Tester was at the heart of the negotiations that got the bill passed and signed. We need more bipartisanship efforts like these to help solve climate change and other issues.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby advocates for the passage of the budget reconciliation bill that builds on the infrastructure bill Senator Tester shepherded through Congress. The reconciliation bill would fund incentives to strengthen our electrical grid, expand fossil-free electricity generation, develop more electric charging stations, and fund energy retrofits for our buildings to reduce energy demand. Analysis by Resources for the Future shows that all of these methods will help meet the goal of reducing our emissions by 50% by 2030, however more is needed.

The reconciliation bill will not be enough; more bipartisan work will remain. Drought, low snowpack, warm rivers, and wildfires and their smoke don’t care what party you subscribe to, if any. It’s time for Sens. Tester and Daines to work together on climate change solutions that will help all Montanans. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has hit the fire alarm; we see the flames in the southwest, and they are headed in our direction. When there is a fire, no one asks if it burns on land owned by a Democrat or a Republican. It’s time to set aside the partisanship and work together to put out the fire.

Dave Atkins is a forester, forest ecologist and family forest owner in the lower Blackfoot. He is also co-lead of the Missoula chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-partisan organization dedicated to solving climate disruption.

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