Montana Congressman Steve Daines received a one-on-one tour of the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumper Center at the Missoula International Airport on Monday afternoon.

Smokejumper with Steve Daines
photo by Peter Christian

Smokejumper, wildland firefighter and EMT, Kurt Rohrbach showed Daines, his wife, staff and a small group of reporters through the Smokejumper center, including demonstrations on the amount of gear a jumper must wear before he jumps out of the plane.

"I just showed him around the base," Rohrbach said. "I shared with him just what we do and why we exist. We're here to put out the fires that regular forces can't get to, and put them out before they get big."

Rohrbach shared with the congressman the needs of smokejumpers around the country.

Smokejumper Sherpa Aircraft
photo by Peter Christian

"I just hope maybe we can increase our numbers someday," he said. "We do get maxed out when the season gets busy here, and if there are no jumpers here we can't supply outlying districts with that capability. We cover northern Idaho, all of Montana, part of South Dakota, and North Dakota, and we only have 75 smokejumpers here in Missoula."

Congressman Daines said that he wanted to change the method by which wildfire fighting costs are paid.

"We need to do two things," Daines said. "We need to change the way that we fund wildfire suppression. There's a bill that's been presented in Washington that would move it more towards a disaster declaration so that we don't keep taking dollars away from the Forest Service. But, second, we need to get back to more healthy timber prices here in Montana."

Daines said he and his fellow members of Montana's congressional delegation are working together in an effort to craft a better way to pay for wildfire suppression.

"We're going to be working together towards a solution to assure that one, we have adequate funding for the needs of this wildfire season and seasons to come," he said. "The second thing is we need to continue to work together in reforming the way we manage our national forests to promote more timber harvests, which is a way to reduce the fuel load and thereby reduce the number of wildfires."

Daines is running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat John Walsh, who was appointed to complete the term of Max Baucus, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to China.

Congressman Steve Daines


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