Experts from a variety of fields admit that Montana’s timber industry is in dire straits as a trade agreement with Canada fades this month and a surplus of cheap lumber causes prices to plummet. Executive Vice President of the Montana Wood Products Association Julia Altemus said there is something Montana can do to help save the industry, and the groundwork has already been laid.

"Back in 2013, the state legislature passed HB 354, which was a bill that set aside $5 million per biennium for fuel reduction, depending on how much money is in the coffers as far as fire suppression goes," saidAltemus. "I think we are around on $70 or $80 million right now, sitting in the fire suppression fund, so there is another $5 million that is open for the next two years."

Altemus hopes the state will put that money to work and is asking Governor Steve Bullock to commit the funding.

"We would run it through the mills and people back to work," said Altemus. "$5 million in western Montana, around the mills, would actually produce about 17 jobs per 1 million board foot harvested," Altemus said. "When we spent 8 million one time on a jump-start, I think we harvested about 5,000 acres worth of timber."

Because of difficulties in getting timber access on federal land, the fire suppression harvests would all be on state and private land in Montana. According to Altemus, the funds could help keep the forests safer, help put loggers back to work, and may keep more Montana mills from closing.