HELENA – After a devastating fire season, the department responsible for fighting many of the fires is painting a bleak picture of its future due to budget cuts.
The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) updated lawmakers at the Environmental Quality Council meeting Wednesday afternoon.
DNRC Director John Tubbs said the agency blew through the fire suppression budget early on this fire season. The firefighting total is upwards of $63 million and many of the bills for the equipment and aircraft used haven’t even come due yet.
DNRC, like many state agencies, will need to cut 10 percent of its budget to meet a request by Governor Steve Bullock to make up for state revenue shortfalls.
The Water Resources Division will be hardest hit if the cuts are approved.
Stream gauges shared with the U.S. Geological Survey will have to be decommissioned. Tubbs told lawmakers that will have a significant impact on organizations like the National Weather Service that rely on those gauges for flood monitoring forecasts. DNRC also may not fill some vacant positions to save money.
“We’re an agency that has had this question asked to us many many times,” Tubbs said. “I don’t know that we ever considered ourselves as an agency that had a lot extra fat to just cut off. We’re down to bone, so you will see direct impacts. We are trying to preserve as much as we can.”
Tubbs said a special session of the state legislature would be one option to restore the budget. If not, the Director hinted DNRC may be looking at furlough days for employees this next year to make up for the gap.