Friday, December 22, 2006

Gov Schweitzer moves quickly on Derby Mountain fire

Give credit where credit is due -- Gov. Schweitzer is pledging to help ranchers recover from the Derby Mountain fire.

Having the state assist ranchers is in the state's best interest, since the assistance will focus on weed control and on giving ranchers money to help buy hay so they can forgo grazing for a year, allowing the land to recover. This will have positive consequences for wildlife preservation, water quality, and the eventual "curbside appeal" of Montana's scenery -- one of its most valuable assets.

How the state handles their part of recovery is going to have political consequences, and the larger the fire, the more potential consequences there are. It is worth noting that Schweitzer specifically plans to target helping people with small ranchettes. His reasoning seems sound -- they are not eligible for federal agricultural dollars, and the state doesn't want their land becoming weed patches. But it is hard not to observe that the governor will get more voter impact per dollar with that kind of focus, compared to focusing on making sure that ranchers who make their living ranching get adequate assistance.

Also not mentioned are any of the other many fires across the state. Will all be treated equally? Will the state assume extra responsibility in fires whose federal management has been questioned?

This will be worth watching as it develops.