Governor Heineman signs wildfire bill

Governor Dave Heineman Monday signed into law a bill providing more money for fighting and preventing wildfires.

LB 634, introduced by Hyannis Senator Al Davis, includes about $1.7-million dollars in each of the next two years. Davis says it enhances the state's ability to fight " the kinds of mega-fires we have experienced in the past and are likely to face again in the future."

The new law includes state support for a forest fuels reduction program, a marketing program for woody biomass generated from forest thinning, and to rehabilitate burned lands to protect existing infrastructure.

It also expands a training program for volunteer firefighters, private landowners and Nebraska communities, and calls for the state to contract for one single-engine air tanker (SEAT) with 2 or more permanent and one mobile refueling stations.

Davis says the bill addresses serious deficiencies in Nebraska's response to wildland fires and greatly increases the likelihood that wildfires which start in Nebraska remain small, reducing the need to mobilize national resources which are vastly more expensive.

The bill originally called for 2 SEAT based in Chadron and the other in Valentine...but that was cut back to 1 in either Valentine or Alliance.

Plans have moved forward, though, on a refueling station at the Chadron airport, with the Chadron City Council approving a cooperative agreement and lease with South Dakota for such a facility Monday night. The station could be used by planes working in either state.

In a related story, the Nebraska legislature Friday adopted a resolution by Davis calling on the U-S Forest Service to reconsider its decision not to pay a proportionate share of the of the replacement costs of fences destroyed by last year's fires.

Davis says ranchers adjacent to Forest Service land who lost fences to the fires have already been devastated by both fire and drought, making them hard-pressed to be able to pay the full cost of fences along their property lines with the federal land.

The Forest Service cited the budget impact of the federal sequestration cuts in deciding that it will replace only interior fences on the land that it manages, and that boundary fences are the sole responsibility of private landowners.

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