UPDATE: Click here for the new draft (and note that this draft revises only Title I of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act).
This morning Sen. Jon Tester offered the outlines of a new version of his forest bill. It includes, of course, the logging mandate, a key part of the bill as originally proposed. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee removed the mandate in its recent "discussion draft."
The text of the bill won't be available until later this afternoon or early Friday morning (we'll post it then), but here's the memo (PDF) Tester's office released to reporters this morning.
The meat of the memo:
THE BOTTOM LINE:
This draft legislation would result in the same outcome proposed by the original Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 1470). The new legislation creates a national framework, turning the overall objective of the bill into one that can be applied to other national forests. This was an idea brought forward in a discussion draft recently proposed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
HOW IS THIS PROPOSAL DIFFERENT FROM THE ORIGINAL BILL?
• The new proposal sets the work prescribed for Montana by the original Forest Jobs and Recreation Act into a national forest initiative. This national initiative directs the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to select several forests on which to conduct forest restoration work aimed at creating timber jobs and restoring watersheds. However, through this bill, the first forests to be considered for this work will be: Beaverhead-Deerlodge, the Seeley Lake District of the Lolo and the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai.
• While the goals of forest restoration remain the same as introduced in the original bill, the mechanics of how the work will be planned and analyzed by the Forest Service has changed (see below).
• The new proposal also contains certain provisions originally proposed by Sen. Tester in February. These proposals were based on feedback he heard from Montanans. New proposals include:
-Prioritizing Wildland Urban Interface land (land near communities at high risk of wildfire) when selecting areas for the stewardship contracts.
-Expanding the area eligible for stewardship contracting in Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest in order to protect grizzly bear habitat.
-Adding language for "Best Value” stewardship contracting, which requires contracts to be awarded on the basis of achieving best value to the government. A variety of criteria, including weighted local preference, would be used in making the award determination.
WHAT REMAINS THE SAME?
• The new proposal retains the timber and restoration components as introduced in the original bill.
• The new proposal still directs the Forest Service to conduct large forest and watershed restoration projects across entire watersheds.
• The agency will work with collaborative groups to design and implement the projects
• The bill mandates logging and forest restoration activity that will result in at least 100,000 acres of treatment in Montana over the life of the bill.
HOW WILL THE WORK BE ACHIEVED?
• The new proposal no longer mandates that Forest Service conduct one Environmental Impact Statement per year to plan for and analyze each landscape-level project. Instead, it directs the agency to conduct watershed assessments to identify timber and restoration projects.
• Those projects will be analyzed under processes defined in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). This proposal expands HFRA’s authority to carry out the requirements in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. It also engages and potentially resolves opposition to management projects early, through a formal objections process instead of the appeals process.
DEFINING MECHANICAL TREATMENT:
• Defines mechanical treatment as:
“An activity that uses a tool, as the Secretary determines appropriate, to remove from the forest fiber that could be used for a commercial purpose.”