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Tester talks increasing Forest Service funds to fight wildfires


August 22, 2018

Jon Tester

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the U.S. Forest Service has new tools to help solve the increasing problems of wildfires in Montana and across the West.

"The climate change has made our fire season longer, more intense, and for two decades the Forest Service didn't have the tools to keep up," Tester said.

Wildfires in Montana and across the west are continuing to be a problem because of the dry conditions and the dead trees, Tester, who faces a challenge in November's general election from Republican Montana Auditor Matt Rosendale, said during a telephone press conference from Washington.

This wildfire season, the Forest Service will have an additional $500 million to fight wildfires specifically, Tester said, adding that in March of this year he was the only member of Montana's congressional delegation to vote for a bill to change how the country pays for wildfires.

In 2020, the Forest Service will be able to access emergency funds to pay to fight wildfires, Tester said.

"Treating them the same way we treat other national disasters, like hurricanes and floods," he said.  

The bill also contained language expanding the Forest Service's ability to cut timber and maintain roads and trails.

Tester said that for too long the Forest Service had been turned into a firefighting agency and not a forest management agency, but the new funds will help the forest service return to its primary responsibility of actively managing forests.

Tester also spoke about his plans to meet U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

He said he had hoped to be able to sit down with Kavanaugh this past week and ask him questions concerning women's rights, net neutrality, right to privacy, campaign finance reform and other subjects of concern.

"Unfortunately, the White House delayed my meeting with Mr. Kavanaugh," Tester added.

Tester said he has requested the National Archives and the Justice Department release all of Kavanaugh's writings and documents from Kavanaugh's time as an associate in the White House counsel's office. He added that this information should be public record and that it is important for Montanans to know who Kavanaugh is and where he stands on certain issues.

Tester said he encourages Montanans to send him and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines their thoughts.

"For Montanans, it is critically important that the next Supreme Court Justice understands our challenges in a rural state like Montana, our unique way of life, and what we need in a Supreme Court to make sure rural America can be all it can be," Tester said.

Access to affordable health care is essential across Montana, Tester said, adding that when a hospital leaves, the community will soon follow.

Tester said he had led the charge to reauthorize and increase funding for Montana's community health centers.

Tester said that last week the country celebrated National Health Center Week, and he secured $1 million of improvement grants for 16 community health care centers in Montana.

Those clinics are important to Montanans because of the health issues families face, Tester said, adding that that they would have to drive long distances to access care if the health centers were not there. He added that community health care centers provide unique, affordable services that best fit the community they serve.

He said it is critical that the federal government is held accountable to the community health centers and that the health centers have the funding that they need, adding that the government funding deadline is in September.

Tester said he wants to improve wireless telephone services in Montana.

Matt Rosendale

He said in order for businesses and schools to reach their full potential and for families to stay connected, "we must continue to improve wireless access."

During a Senate Congress Committee hearing last week, Tester said, the Federal Communication Commission proposed plans to expand 5G for bigger cities, such as Houston and Indianapolis.

"I had to speak up because I'm worried that some places in Montana will never get 1G, much less 5G," Tester said.

He added that he requested the FCC to update its broadband and update its maps of service, because the maps were incorrect.

"If the FCC is truly making a decision based on these maps as they are written today," Tester said, "Montana will be left behind."


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