Senate approves $576M for fire relief

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Sarah Boryszewski is helped by her father Gerald Peete as they dig for belongings in the remains of Boryszewski's home in Coffey Park, Friday Oct. 20, 2017 in Santa Rosa, Calif. Northern California residents who fled a wildfire in the dead of night with only minutes to spare returned to their neighborhoods Friday for the first time in nearly two weeks to see if anything was standing. (Kent Porter/The Press Democrat via AP)

The Senate has approved $576.5 million to aid the West’s recovery from a devastating wildfire season.

The funds were included in the $36.5 billion Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, which cleared the Senate Tuesday and now heads to President Trump for a signature.

With millions of Western acres charred by wildfires and Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida still drying out from major hurricanes, the bill enjoyed bipartisan support, passing 82-17 in the Senate.

Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R) both voted in favor. In a Tuesday video message, Daines said that “it’s good to see Congress moving forward on getting Montana the funding it needs to cover the drastic fire season and the costs associated with fighting those fires.”

The $587 million provided in the bill will mainly be used to replenish various funds that were drained to cover this season’s $2 billion-plus firefighting costs. The Forest Service and other federal agencies are increasingly forced to divert money from other activities to fund fire suppression, a practice called “fire borrowing.”

Last month, the Daily Inter Lake reported that Daines saw this practice as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” While the funds approved Tuesday will help other federal land management activities continue, Daines called for additional policy changes.

“We need to move forward on forest management reform,” he said, “because a managed forest is a healthier forest.”

To this end, both he and Tester are backing the Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act, which aims to remove legal obstacles facing forest management projects.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or at 758-4407.

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