Firefighting costs scuttled mine cleanup, FWP partnership

2014-06-10T06:15:00Z 2014-06-22T21:16:24Z Firefighting costs scuttled mine cleanup, FWP partnershipBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian

Paying for forest fires pre-empted lots of U.S. Forest Service work last year, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mine cleanup work in the Ninemile Ranger District and partnership arrangements with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks were among the western Montana jobs dropped in 2013 when the federal agency had to redirect $505 million of its annual budget for fire suppression.

The Forest Service also pulled $440 million away from its regular budget in 2012.

“With longer and more severe wildfire seasons, the current way that the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior budget for wildland fire is unsustainable,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an email statement. “Until firefighting is treated like other natural disasters that can draw on emergency funding, firefighting expenditures will continue to disrupt forest restoration and management, research and other activities that help manage our forests and reduce future catastrophic wildfire.”

The Obama administration has proposed paying for wildfire in the same fashion the government covers other natural disasters like hurricanes or floods. That would allow the Forest Service to have more secure budgeting for its routine management and planning work. Currently, it must pull funds away from those tasks as fire seasons expand.

“Around this time of year, the national level has an idea of what they need to budget for fire and what the outlook is for the fire season,” Forest Service Region 1 spokesman Brandan Schulze said in Missoula. “That’s when they start saying, ‘OK, no more spending on things that aren’t already obligated for this year.’ ”

Projects that lose their money get back in line with the work scheduled for the following year. As the backlog grows, Schulze said, those stranded projects must compete for prioritization with new needs.

Forest restoration and management, research, state and private forest assistance, and fire-reduction efforts have been the most frequently targeted programs for budget shifts. Ninemile District Ranger Chad Benson said he had to delay environmental cleanup on the Kennedy Creek drainage, where tailings piles from old metal mines were leaching into the water system.

“Fire-borrowing never does you any good,” Benson said of the disruption to his budget triggered by fire needs elsewhere. “We’re hopeful we can get this project to the forefront in the next month or so. We do most of our work in the woods, but it’s hard to do that before June 15 because of the spring runoff conditions. And we’re kind of last on the list (as other parts of the country get wildfires earlier in the spring). By the time they get to us, there’s a lot of money that’s been spent.”


The complete list for Forest Service projects that got canceled or delayed by fire-transfer spending in Montana during 2013 includes:

• On the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, a gravel-surfaced accessible path was not constructed.

• The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway sign replacement project on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest was deferred, negatively affecting visitor experience and hindering wayfinding efforts of forest visitors.

• Forest planning efforts were delayed on the Flathead National Forest.

• Forest plan amendments for the Lewis and Clark, Lolo, Kootenai and Helena national forests for grizzly bear conservation strategy were delayed.

• Site investigation work at the Libby Asbestos Area on the Kootenai National Forest was delayed.

• Preparatory work for mine removal actions at Flat Creek and Kennedy Creek on the Lolo National Forest was delayed.

• National Environmental Policy Act analysis for grazing was not completed on the Gallatin, Custer and Flathead national forests.

• Numerous grazing projects were impacted in Montana. One mile of grazing allotment fencing was not maintained; allotment management activities, including three fencing projects, were delayed; the Hay Creek fence construction project to benefit range and watershed activities was not completed.

• A key partnership agreement with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks was not completed.

• Road maintenance activities and dust abatement projects were deferred, directly impacting 400 miles of passenger vehicle road maintenance.

• Watershed restoration work was impacted because no seeds or materials were purchased.


And in 2012:

• A large mine cleanup and monitoring project at Beal Mountain was eliminated.

• Road maintenance on 75 miles of priority road previously resurfaced was canceled.

• Trail survey and design work was deferred.

• Purchase of supplies needed for trail maintenance and rehabilitation was deferred.

• Forest plan revision assessment work was delayed.

• Grazing permit administration was reduced.

• A pre-commercial thinning contract for 66 acres was deferred.

• Seedling orders were canceled.

• Supply purchases were deferred.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Smilely
    Report Abuse
    Smilely - June 10, 2014 3:06 pm
    MTSierra how many times do I need to tell you to take a basic, elementary school reading course? This is not the first time I've told you this, it has just been awhile - "purchase about a half dozen super-cranes (helicopters that can pick up tractor trailers) to dump water on these fires" - Now who ever said anything about going out alone and putting out a fire? And by the way, I am lucky if I see my home three months a year over the past twenty years (too busy managing wilderness areas) and I am a minimalist and could care less if my home burnt to the ground. It wouldn't be the first time I lost everything I own and I certainly hope it isn't the last - freedom's just another word for nothing else to lose.
  2. MTSierra
    Report Abuse
    MTSierra - June 10, 2014 10:50 am
    Sounds like you just volunteered to be the ONE person to pack water and tools into that back country to put the fire out and restart it in the fall. If you think it is so simple go do it yourself. I would assume though if a fire was threatening your home you would want all the firefighters, fire trucks, helicopters, retardant, and other resources to protect your home.
  3. MTSierra
    Report Abuse
    MTSierra - June 10, 2014 10:45 am
    js350454, Roger stated the average annual acreage burned during 1930-1939 was 39 million acres/year. The total acres burned in the last 4 years doesn't equal one year during the 30's.
  4. Kate55
    Report Abuse
    Kate55 - June 10, 2014 8:45 am
    Thirty years ago almost all ranger districts had seasonal initial attack crews who drove pumper trucks and put out the small fires and mopped up the big ones so they didn't put of smoke for weeks I did that for nine summers. Alot of the crud in the air from the big fires now is actually dust from the bulldozers and heavy equipment I did that for nine summers. The jumpers put out the inaccessible ones Eventually they canned all the seasonals for money reasons, if you can believe that. .

    The forests are much drier now - the soil, fuel, the brush trees, even the live ones The reason they are so much drier now is because the snow melt that they rely on melts out typically as much as two months early now So conditions are certainly more dangerous now.

    Look for this: it explains a lot and it is not hard to read:
    Testimony of Dr. Steven W Running before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Hearing on Wildfires and the Climate Crisis . November 1, 2007 Dr. Running is at the U of M. Deniers will recall that it is a crime to lie to Congress.

  5. js350454
    Report Abuse
    js350454 - June 10, 2014 8:40 am
    This is a perfect example of why we need to vote the lunatics pressing for a sate takeover of federal land out of office!
  6. js350454
    Report Abuse
    js350454 - June 10, 2014 8:26 am
    That is a not a good comparison relative to this article Roger. There are too many external influences on fire "severity" to compare the acres burned from 1930-1939 to the acres burned from 2010 - 2013. Which, according to your numbers, averaged 4.3 million acres/year in the 1930's and 6 million acres/year in the 2010's - I think and additional 1.7 million acres is a large amount of land to burn. These external influences include the average temps, humidity, precipitation, different fire management policies and tactics, location, etc....
  7. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - June 10, 2014 7:03 am
    These "longer and more severe" fire seasons don't appear so bad, compared to past fire seasons. For example, average annual acreage burned by wildfires in the U.S.was 39 million acres from 1930 to 1939, while that figure for 2010 to 2013 was only 6 million acres per year.

  8. Smilely
    Report Abuse
    Smilely - June 09, 2014 10:04 pm
    Why does the Forest Service, DNRC or whatever other Einsteins of firefighting let these fires burn so long they turn into some huge months-long dragged-out project costing tens of millions of dollars to bring the under control. If I was in charge of fighting forest fires this would be my strategy: First I would fire every firefighter, get rid of every truck, every pick and shovel, every length of hose, every pension, all those cushy permanent, year-round full-time positions - sitting around doing nearly nothing nine months a year - get rid of all the expensive radios and satellite phones, get rid of all the planes and orange retardant and get rid of all the buildings housing all this wasteful junk and purchase about a half dozen super-cranes (helicopters that can pick up tractor trailers) to dump water on these fires when they are the size of my living room. Then near the end of the summer when temperatures begin dropping and humidity rises I would send ONE person back to the exact spot where the fire began and start the fire again allowing it to burn itself out when the first snow arrives. This way nature gets to do its thing and we do not end up with "road pavement" in the forest and our precious resources - whether for recreation or industry - totally destroyed. I have seen many of the fires that are fought long and hard and at great expense by firefighters end not by humans extinguishing them but because the natural elements brought on by the end of the season. I often wonder why these fires are left burning on their own before any attempt is made to put them out. Job security. It's a racket.
Missoulian Civil Dialogue Policy

Civil Dialogue Policy for Commenting on

We provide this community forum for readers to exchange ideas and opinions on the news of the day. Passionate views, pointed criticism and critical thinking are welcome. Comments can only be submitted by registered users. By posting comments on our site, you are agreeing to the following terms:

Commentary and photos submitted to the Missoulian ( may be published or distributed in print, electronically or other forms. Opinions expressed in's comments reflect the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of the Missoulian or its parent company. See the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy for more information.

Our guidelines prohibit the solicitation of products or services, the impersonation of another site user, threatening or harassing postings and the use of vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language, defamatory or illegal material. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other classification. It's fine to criticize ideas, but ad hominem attacks on other site users are prohibited. Users who violate those standards may lose their privileges on

You may not post copyrighted material from another publication. (Link to it instead, using a headline or very brief excerpt.)

No short policy such as this can spell out all possible instances of material or behavior that we might deem to be a violation of our publishing standards, and we reserve the right to remove any material posted to the site.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick