DNRC Aviation Program Reviewed By National Team
A national aviation team spent most of last week in Montana performing a top-to-bottom review of the Montana DNRC’s Aviation Program. Specifically, the group was brought in at the request of Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack after Bullock sent a letter expressing frustration about the state’s helicopters being unauthorized to respond to fires on federal lands. In August, both the Secretary and the Governor issued a joint statement announcing the aviation review as an important step toward resolving the issue. “The team concluded that Montana DNRC has a safe and effective aviation program” said DNRC Director John Tubbs, whose aviation team was briefed on the findings last Wednesday. While the USDA determined that Montana is operating a safe aviation program, current federal policies will need to be modified to allow DNRC helicopters to fly on federal wildfires. “Our aviation program continues to demonstrate safe and effective fire suppression capabilities,” said Tubbs. “Now we need the policies surrounding their operation on federal lands to be modified to reflect that and enable their use.”
As a result of Governor Bullock’s efforts, USDA has agreed to engage state and other firefighting partners to determine how federal standards could be broadened to provide alternate means of compliance for cooperators and contractors who have safely developed specific programs such as Montana’s. Governor Bullock has directed the Montana DNRC to work with USDA and remains confident the issue will be resolved prior to the 2016 fire season.