Wednesday, a few minutes after the Indy went to press, Sen. Jon Tester held a conference call with reporters to address some of the criticism surrounding the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. For the most part, Tester stuck to his talking points: the bill will put people to work. It will quell some of the elevated risk of wildfire posed by beetle-killed trees. And, most of all, it represents a collaborative effort between Montanans who, Tester said, “you know, wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room as few as 10 years ago.”
Tester also addressed questions raised by environmentalists and researchers in this week’s cover story.
With the mandated logging, researchers claim that Tester is setting a precedent by removing forest management from the hands of the U.S. Forest Service and placing it in the hands of Congress.
“It’s absolutely setting a precedent, there’s no doubt about that,” Tester said. “But I think it’s realistic and entirely doable. Some of the forest service folks have told my staff and told me that they appreciate the possibility of getting some direction on forest management.”
As for the claim that declining market for wood products is permanent, Tester brushes it off.
“I hope we get [the bill] kicked in sooner rather than later and I hope the economy kicks in sooner rather than later,” he said. “We need tree products, there’s no doubt about it. There’s opportunity in the forest for dimension lumber, but also opportunities for biofuels...it can have real positive impacts. Overall, our demand for wood is not decreasing, so we need to be ready to go back to work when [the economy] pops up.”
But Tester saved his most ardent pitch for those who question the bill's environmental precedent:
“Is this going to violate NEPA?” he said. “No, NEPA will be done on a landscape basis. It’s not going to violate any environmental laws. There’re some folks who don’t want to cut any trees. And they’re going to look for any way to do it. They’re going to say I was bought. They’re going to say they were cut out of the process. That’s not the case. They’re going to say this doesn’t follow the federal process and that’s not the case. They can say it all they want but that doesn’t make it true.”
As reporters asked questions, a trend developed. One reporter would address criticism from the ATV community (half a million acres of wilderness designation bars the off-road community from some of their favorite haunts). Then, Tester would field a question from the left about the dropped wilderness-study areas on BLM land. Someone would ask him about jobs in the woods, then somebody else questioned the need for wood products. It became apparent that, although he touts the collaborative effort that crafted the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, Tester is feeling the pinch from all sides.
At one point, Tester answered a question with a statement that could have served as a subhead for the entire bill:
“That’s what happens in a collaborative process,” he said. “Not everybody gets what they want, but in this instance, I think everybody gets a lot.”