The emotions and excitement surrounding Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act definitely reflects how much we care about our public lands. My hope is that our common passion will guide our dialogue.
Many aspects of this bill are troubling to me. During his campaign Tester pledged to carry on the tradition of Lee Metcalf, yet this proposed bill would release over a million acres of currently protected roadless forest. I worked all last summer in the West Pioneers so this compromise in the bill hits close to home.
The compromise is partially to gain wilderness. This would be great, but the islands of wilderness proposed in the bill lack in biodiversity, varied elevation, protected corridors and buffers to preserve fragile ecosystems. I feel that these areas fall quite short of the areas envisioned by the 1964 Wilderness Act
The most troubling aspect of the bill, however, is the unprecedented requirement of 7,000 acres of “treatment” on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge. “Treatment” could take many forms, but the bill does not provide any money for these different types of “treatment.” With limited funding I think it is realistic to assume that the vast majority of those 7,000 acres will be logged. The historical average for logging in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge is around 3,200 acres.
More worrying than the amount of timber is the fact that it is set at a required amount. This dictate undermines the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and takes management away from the Forest Service. Logging is necessary and fine, but should continue to be handled by the Forest Service who can accurately assess the impact of such projects.
Passing this bill would set the dangerous precedent of required quotas for extraction. Maybe Sen. Rockefeller of West Virginia will catch on and decide that 7,000 tons of coal should be required of the Appalachians—sorry Forest Service, this is now Congress’ decision. The impacts of this bill are much further reaching than our backyard and I believe that no amount of wilderness is worth their cost.