House Bill 883 to impact how wildfires are fought in Montana

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Posted at 6:52 PM, May 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-02 20:52:16-04

House Bill 883, proposed by Llew Jones, looks to change several aspects of how the state’s fire fund is maintained and spent.

The money that goes into the account would go towards suppression, mitigation, and restoration, and Jones said that the thought behind this is to have these assets ready in the state.

“We are based in Bozeman, we were not here to help respond,” CEO Tim Sheehy, Bridger Aerospace said while recounting the 2020 Bridger Fire. “The Montana asset is elsewhere at the time they’re needed.”

Bridger Aerospace is a Bozeman-based aerial firefighting company with the mission to save lives and property through their work. CEO Tim Sheehy expresses support for HB 883 and notes what it could mean for the future of wildfires in Montana.

“This will double the state's wildland fire fighting budget,” Sheehy said. “To ensure when fires happen here going forward, the state of Montana can step into that breach and fight those fires sooner and more aggressively.”

House Bill 883 passed overwhelmingly during the committee and reading sessions, with amendmentsmade throughout the day but did face opposition during senate finance and claims.

Senator Christopher Pope from Bozeman was one of the senators that voted against the bill.

Pope explains that there are hundreds of house bills that flow through the committee and that House Bill 883 would essentially put $140 million into the state's existing fire fund.

Senator Pope also notes that the bill would inflate the fund by 40 percent when we've never needed the budget for a fire season that high. Pope says fire mitigation is important, but he wants to be sure that taxpayer money goes where it's needed, such as health care and housing.