Zinke and Thompson

Ryan Zinke, center right, and Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, center left, discuss forest management and wildfire at a Bridger Aerospace hangar Sunday.

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With the days winding down to the June 7 primary, Republican congressional candidate Ryan Zinke made a stop in Belgrade Sunday to discuss forest management, wildfire and Montana’s place in the upcoming federal farm bill.

Zinke, the former congressman and interior secretary, brought Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania, to discuss the bill — the last version became law in 2018 under the Trump administration. A new one could appear in 2023.

The pair made a previous stop in Great Falls for a similar discussion focusing on agriculture.

“This is important because when you start building the farm bill, you want to be included in the House and foundation in the beginning,” Zinke said.

The pair held a roundtable discussion with representatives from various organizations and businesses connected to forestry and wildfire at aerial firefighting company Bridger Aerospace’s headquarters.

Participants included representatives from Bridger Aerospace, the Property and Environment Research Center, the Montana Wood Products Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Missoula-based Bashoor Land Management and Bozeman-based Wildfire Defense Systems.

Thompson, the ranking Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee, would play a role in shaping the bill, Zinke said.

Zinke said that Thompson could be the next chairman of that committee, which would depend on Republicans regaining the majority in the House.

The Pennsylvania congressman said he came to Montana at Zinke’s request for two reasons: To support the Republican congressional candidate and to include voices from Montana on agriculture and forest management issues.

Zinke said that he has always been an advocate of getting out quickly to deal with wildfires. He said that prescribed burns should be done in shoulder seasons that could help to put “out of control fires” to an end.

Better technology, better decisions on the frontlines of wildfires and an empowered frontline are solutions Zinke offered for dealing with fires.

Thompson said that bureaucratic barriers, regulations and lawsuits stand in the way of forest management.

Just over two weeks remain before the June 7 primary election.

Zinke is running for the Republican nomination for the newly-created western congressional district against Dr. Al Olszewski, Mary Todd, Matt Jette and Mitch Heuer.

Heuer could not be reached for comment by deadline.

Drew Zinecker, a spokesperson for Olszewski, who is a former state lawmaker, said that the Flathead-based candidate would sponsor legislation on his first day in office dealing with the “turf war” between the state and federal government when it comes to forest management.

Zinecker said that the Montana Legislature needs to be able to take possession of federal lands and manage them at the state level because legislators “are accountable to the people.”

Todd, also based in the Flathead, said that she is ashamed of Montana’s congressional delegation and the lack of oversight in Montana forests. She said that sovereignty should be brought back to states for forest management. Todd said that Congress should revoke the ability for non-governmental organizations to sue the U.S. Forest Service, which could stop projects from being delayed.

“When we allow environmentalists to make bad decisions for our forests it’s a problem,” Todd said.

Jette, who previously ran for Congress as a Democrat and Independent in Arizona, said that local forest management is always better than national forest management.

He compared issues in forest management and in dealing with wildfires to a doctor diagnosing cancer in its late stages. He said that the issues with forest management and wildfire happened during Zinke and Thompson’s tenure in office.

“It was on their watch, they’ve had plenty of time and have seen this coming,” Jette said.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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