Restoring forest management
Despite the consensus of fire playing an important role in the health of our forests, forest management planners have been crippled by bureaucratic red tape preventing the use of controlled burns.
“Conservation begins and ends on the ground. A whole range of collaboration is possible. We will be judged by what we actually accomplish.” – Dale Bosworth, Former Chief of the Forest Service
In recent weeks forest management scientists have made their views on forest management clear on local radio shows and in newspapers across Montana. Among the biggest topics in their discussions is how a century of forest mis-management has created a situation in which our forests have become dangerously overcrowded partially due to a lack of low intensity fires on the landscape. Fires have long played a role in many of our forests, so much so that many species of trees have become dependent on them.
Despite the consensus of fire playing an important role in the health of our forests, forest management planners have been crippled by bureaucratic red tape preventing the use of controlled burns. In this month’s feature article, PERC Policy Director Hannah Downey, unpacks the barriers preventing forest managers from utilizing controlled burn techniques.
“Expanding prescribed burns is more complicated than just spending more money. Real policy hurdles exist and must be addressed.”
“One hurdle is the air pollution emitted during burns—a problem Montanans experience firsthand during fire season. However, moderate smoke emissions from prescribed burns count against Montana’s compliance with the federal Clean Air Act, which limits the amount of burning that can happen, even though the massive emissions from wildfires do not.”
In addition to smoke emissions, “one of the greatest controversies surrounding prescribed burns is the issue of liability if a planned burn grows out of control and damages neighboring property.”
“Rather than lowering the burner’s liability, land management agencies, insurance companies, and others who benefit from the application of prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risk could pay into a catastrophe bond. Certified prescribed burn managers could be covered by the catastrophe bond in the very unlikely event that a burn damages others’ property.”
Milking the System
- Last week the Montana Board of Milk Control presented their analysis of the state-regulated milk market before the Legislative Audit Committee. Montana uses a quota system to restrict the amount of milk each producer can produce. The Milk Board’s analysis recommended that quotas be reduced in order “to better position the Board of Milk Control to act on industry needs and changing markets.”
Our Take: Montana is one of the only states in the country that uses a state imposed quota system to dictate the volume of milk that farms can produce. Agriculture, such as dairy, plays a vital role in Montana’s economy, yet it remains one of the most regulated industries in the state. Legislators should be slow to add more regulatory barriers to Montanas milk industry, but quick to question whether current obtrusive regulations are even necessary in the first place.
Ushering In DPC
- On October 1st, Senate Bill 101 went into effect. The law has made Montana a national leader as it is the most expansive authorization of direct patient care (DPC) in the nation. The law allows for dentists, physicians, psychiatrists, dermatologists and other medical professionals to offer subscriptions to their service, eliminating the need for patients to go through insurance to see a medical professional.
Our Take: The DPC model has the potential to greatly reduce paperwork for medical professionals, allowing them to spend more time on what they went to school for – to help those in need. The model also has the potential to greatly reduce costs by eliminating wasteful bureaucratic procedures involved with billing insurance. SB 101 is helping to make Montana a national leader in low cost, high quality healthcare.
Planning for the Inevitable
- Bozeman is finally seeing progress made on a plan to reduce a build up of excess fuels near the stream that provides most of the city’s drinking water. The Sourdough Fuels Reduction project manager, Brian Heaston explained to the Bozeman Chronicle that “the threat of fire is not an if, but a when,” making the project that much more important in order to protect Bozeman’s water supply. The plan calls for a combination of controlled burns, thinning, and fuel breaks to help limit the chances of a “severe wildfire ripping through the Gallatin Range.”
Our Take: The area where the project is located was first identified in a 2003 Forest Service risk assessment known as the Bozeman Creek Prototype Analysis. It has been over 15 years since the problem was identified, yet the project is just now getting under way. This delay is largely due to litigation which held up the plan for years. While over a decade of litigation unfolded, the area remained at risk for an uncharacteristically severe wildfire that could destroy habitats and cut off Bozeman’s drinking water supply. Legislators and forest managers should be looking for innovative ways to work collaboratively to expedite the implementation of forest management plans so that future plans won’t have to wait 15 years to begin to restore our forests.