Environmental Quality Council

EQC Examines Ways to Pay for Forest Fires and AIS

Committee: Environmental Quality Council
Author: Joe Kolman
Posted on February 5, 2018

Image of coal piles

At its January meeting, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) examined how other states pay for fighting forest fires and aquatic invasive species.  

Montana uses different sources to pay for wildland fire preparedness and suppression. Fire suppression costs incurred by the state are paid from the fire suppression account, while wildland fire protection fees are the source of preparedness funding. Preparedness includes firefighter training and equipment readiness and placement.

Section 76-13-201, MCA establishes landowner assessment fee amounts to pay for preparedness. An owner of land classified as forest land in a wildland fire protection district is required to pay a base fee of not more than $50, plus not more than an additional $0.30 per acre per year for each acre in excess of 20 acres owned. Most of the assessments are paid by western Montana landowners.

At its March 21-22 meeting the EQC examines how changes to the fee would affect preparedness funding.

The council also will reexamine how the state funds its aquatic invasive species program. Currently, the effort to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) comes from fees on hydroelectric users and anglers, but those revenues are set to expire in two years. Maintaining the status quo in Montana or implementing a new AIS funding structure requires legislation. Other western states are more apt to use general fund money or impose fees on watercrafts.

As part of its study on the coal industry, the council wants Attorney General Tim Fox to weigh in on a bill proposed in the Washington Legislature. The question posed to Fox is to what extent can another state regulate and tax carbon emissions generated in Montana, and does Senate Bill 6203 conflict with the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by favoring Washington's own energy generation while discriminating against or imposing an excessive burden on out-of-state generation?

According to the EQC, a carbon tax in Washington will have far-reaching and dramatic implications in Montana, where the Colstrip Generating Station is located. It also promises to greatly change the flow of commerce in the northwest. Montana has provided reliable coal-fired energy to Washington for the last 40 years.

The formal request went to Fox Jan. 29.

All but a fraction of the coal mined in Montana is converted to electricity, either in-state, out-of-state, or out-of-country. Coal’s contribution to U.S. electrical generation, however, continues to decline. In recent years, about three-quarters of Montana’s coal production has been shipped by rail to out-of-state utilities and, increasingly, foreign nations. Montana consumes the remaining quarter.

Also in March the EQC will examine how other states regulate the training of bird dogs. At meetings earlier in the interim, council members criticized two attempts by the agency to implement the law through rulemaking. The law provides that dogs may be trained in open fields anytime if game birds are not killed or captured and the training is conducted a mile or more from a bird nesting area, management area, or game preserve. The agency said rules are needed because trainers are running as many as 60 dogs at a time, to the detriment of game birds. However, the FWP scuttled proposed rules in lieu of further EQC discussion. The January meeting included a history of the statute.

For more information about the meeting, including a full agenda, visit the committee’s website or contact Joe Kolman, committee staff.

Joe Kolman, 406.444.3747 or jkolman@mt.gov