Two weeks after the Lolo Creek Complex fire started, the Montana news media has finally let the public know that the vast majority of forest land burned in the fire is owned and managed by Plum Creek Timber Company, which just so happens to be the largest private landowner in the state.
Blog readers will recall that I was recently critical of the fact that no Montana media outlet apparently saw fit to mention even once or briefly that the Lolo Creek Complex fire was burning mainly on land owned and managed by Plum Creek Timber Company.
According to this morning’s Missoulian: “Most of the forest burned in the Lolo Creek Complex fire belonged to Plum Creek Timber Co., which hopes to recover what it can of the blackened trees this fall.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the article was this bit of information about just how little Plum Creek Timber Company pays the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for fighting wildfire on its private land:
Plum Creek also pays an annual firefighting fee assessment of about 25 cents an acre to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation that works like insurance on all its approximately 900,000 acres of property in the state.
Montana State Forester Bob Harrington said the fee system is similar to programs used in most Rocky Mountain states to support firefighting efforts on private land. The money pays for equipment and training in years when fire activity doesn’t predominate the expenses.
Plum Creek also lost about 1,700 acres of timberland in the West Mullan fire near Superior in July. That area will also be assessed for possible salvage logging.
What do others think about the 25 cents per acre firefighting fee assessment? If it’s a fee assessment that works like insurance, then Plum Creek’s annual fee is approximately $225,000. Not a bad deal for insuring firefighting coverage over 900,000 acres of land, right?
Looked at another way, Plum Creek’s 7000 acres that burned in the 10,902 acre Lolo Complex Fire kicked in a grand total of $1,750 (7000 acres x 25 cents per acre) as per the firefighting fee assessment. I have yet to see concrete cost totals to the Forest Service, State DNRC and taxpayers for the Lolo Creek Complex fire but given the fact that this was the nation’s #1 priority wildfire recently and nearly 1,000 firefighters were fighting it at one point I’d have a hard time believing that total fire suppression costs would be anywhere south of $10 million.
Is this yet another real-world example of the timber industry getting one of the sweetest sweet-heart deals in America? Or does Plum Creek Timber Company (and other timber companies) paying about 25 cents per acre for a firefighting fee assessment pay their fair share of firefighting costs?