Despite Firefunding Fix, States Still Pay To Fight Some Wildfires

Jun 15, 2018

This year’s federal firefunding fix brought a sigh of relief among many in the Mountain West.

It will pump billions of dollars into firefighting efforts over the next decade. But not all wildfires are fought by the federal government.  

Many are fought at the state level with dwindling state funds.  

It’s a pretty simple equation.

For the most part, the federal government will pay for fighting fires on federal public lands and reservations.

And the states will pay for fighting fires on state and private lands.

“We bear the costs,” said Montana state budget analyst Brent Doig.

Last year’s record-breaking wildfire season helped put Montana’s budget into a hole. Now the state is low on funds to fight wildfires this summer.

“We only have $4 million left because of how much we spent last year which was $70 million dollars,” he said.

If that money is spent, Doig said the state will limp along using emergency funds and by dipping into Montana’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation budget.

Then it will ask for more money from the state legislature next January.

In nearby Idaho things aren’t as bad. More than half of that state’s land is federally managed. So Idaho’s state government often doesn’t have to spend as much money as Montana does, where only a third of the land is federally owned.  

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.