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Governor talks fire, mandates in TF


September 2, 2021

Miriah Kardelis

Governor Greg Gianforte (right center) has lunch with local lawmakers and community members last Thursday during a roundtable discussion in Thompson Falls

In the middle of his 56-county tour, Gov. Greg Gianforte made a stop in Thompson Falls last week to discuss forest management. Included in that conversation was Sheriff Tom Rummel, County Commissioners Tony Cox and Glen Magera, State Senator Bob Brown, District 13 Representative Paul Fielder, Public Service Commissioner Jennifer Fielder and four community members.

Gianforte began his day in Frenchtown giving high fives to the local first graders as they went into their second day of school.

The governor sat down with the 10 community members over lunch behind the courthouse last Thursday afternoon. The discussion amongst the group focused on concerns regarding fire management in the area.

While rain over the last few weeks has helped stall fire activity, the Thorne Creek fire, which is listed at 39,053 acres and 80% contained, led to discussions with the governor that centered around the belief that the fire was mismanaged and a more aggressive approach was initially needed.

"We have to be better stewards of the forest," Gianforte said. "That is a top priority because of the impact it had on communities such as Thompson Falls."

Alongside being better stewards of the land, Gianforte's collaboration with Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has led to his goal of an increased use of the Good Neighbor Authority.

The governor said there are currently four million acres in Montana that are in need of active forest management. By expanding forest management and bringing health back into the forest, Gianforte believes this is also an opportunity for more jobs in the area.

He told community members that he plans on being involved in the after-action review for the Thorne Creek fire, which he referred to as a post-mortem. "A post-mortem is needed to learn what we could have done differently," Gianforte said. "There have been 2,100 fires in the state this year, 96% of those can be put out immediately, 4% get away."

The governor's second plan of action, he says, is to "drain the swamp" and bring health back into the forest in the form of thinning, as well as finding a way to build the capacity of forest products and says there is discussion to open two lumber mills in Montana in the future.

The conversation swayed slightly into the topic of COVID-19 when Jennifer Fielder asked the governor's stance on masks and vaccines, to which he replied that he will not implement a mask or vaccine mandate. However, he was also swift to say, "We've had a lot of mandates this last year, but a mandate not to mandate is still a mandate."

While the governor did say he has been vaccinated and believes vaccines are safe and effective, he also said he believes it's a personal choice. "We have real-time data that the vaccine is having a positive impact, but everyone can make their own choice," he said.

While Jennifer Fielder disagreed with the governor that vaccines have yet to be proven safe and effective, Commissioner Cox said the board believes vaccinations are a choice for those in the county.

"It's a personal decision," Commissioner Cox said after Thursday's discussion on vaccines. "After consulting with their health care provider, people should be able to make their own choice."

Cox believes the governor's involvement with the after-action review of the Thorne Creek fire is a good idea. "We will be able to see the good points and the bad points," he said. "It's a smart thing to do, especially on this fire, to see what led to it."

Cox did talk to the governor about Rock Creek Mine and asked if there was anything that could be done to open it back up, which Cox believes is needed to create more jobs and stimulate the economy.

When asked what he would like to see from the governor in the form of forest management, Cox replied broader availability to resources. "The biggest thing is having the resources available to respond quickly to an attack," he said. "I would like to see him promote active forest management by harvesting natural resources before burning."

Commissioner Glen Magera also believes the governor should be involved in the Thorne Creek fire after-action review. "It's the only way we can see a positive improvement of future fires," he said. Magera would also like to see more involvement on the governor's end with the Good Neighbor Authority.

Magera says a more aggressive initial attack is needed to manage forest fires. "It's hard to second guess and I wasn't there, but a good solid initial attack was needed," he said.

As far as the discussion with the governor, Magera thought the conversations were positive. "He was gutsy enough to come talk with us on a one-on-one basis," Magera said. "It was good that he came around to hear what we had to say."


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