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Fire funding proposal makes sense

May 1, 2009
The Daily Mining Gazette

With another long, hot summer in the offing, and with it, an increased likelihood of forest and wild fires across the state, a proposal making the rounds in Lansing that would generate funding to increase the number of Michigan Department of Natural Resources firefighters is worth considering, we believe.

The proposal lawmakers are discussing now would direct timber sale money from the Forest Development Fund to fire protection for the four million acres of state land the DNR protects from wildfires.

It would charge a modest, annual fee to property owners on the roughly 15 million acres of private lands the state helps protect.

The fee would be based on property values. For example, a landowner with property valued at $150,000 would pay an annual fee of about $5.

According to Scott Heather, DNR state wildfire supervisor in Lansing, the agency currently has 78 fire officers, well below the 100 he'd like to see on duty and radically below the 142 which were on staff in 1977, when he started with the DNR.

Of the 78, 33 are assigned to the Upper Peninsula. When not fighting fires, the fire officers often work on recreation programs, campgrounds, timber sales and repairing roads and bridges.

DNR fire money from the general fund has slipped from $13 million annually, to about $4 million. The proposal would replenish the funds necessary for the fire protection program, according to Heather.

Staring down the barrel of another fire season, and just two summers removed from the enormously destructive Sleeper Lake Fire which charred nearly 20,000 central U.P. acres, Heather and his boss, DNR Director Rebecca Humphries are both rightly concerned about this. And so are we.

Fire protection, like a lot of things, is only missed when it's needed and not there. Legislators should realize this and seriously consider the proposal cited.




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