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Firefighting costs running high, bill aims to re-structure funding

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BOZEMAN -

Catastrophic wildfires are an increasing problem around the country and this summer is already proving to be one of the worst fire seasons Montana has seen in years.

The Director of the Dept. of Natural Resources told the Associated Press this week that the state has already spent $21 million fighting fires this season.

This already tops the average annual cost of wild land fires in our state.

A report by the Montana Legislative Fiscal Division says $20.6 million was spent annually on wildfires between 2009 and 2016.

The cost of fires is weighing heavily on federal agencies-- especially the U.S. Forest Service.

 In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of its total budget fighting wildfires.

A forest service report shows now-- at least half of the agency's budget is now going to wildfire fighting costs and by 2025 fire will consume two-thirds of the budget.

The forest service says to solve this problem, we must change the way we pay for wild fires by treating them like other natural disasters, like tornadoes or hurricanes, and shift some of the cost away from the agency.

There is a bill moving through Congress trying to change the way wildfire fighting is funded.

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is a bipartisan effort that would require catastrophic fires be treated like other natural disasters when firefighting costs are exhausted.

Proponents of the bill say it would help the Forest Service, so the agency doesn't have to pull so heavily from other areas when firefighting money runs out.

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