Sen. Jon Tester held an open house in Missoula on October 26 to promote the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, an innovative, collaborative piece of legislation that seeks to change public land management for the better here in Montana (see “Etc.” Oct. 29, 2009). Significantly, among the information provided was the news that fellow Sen. Max Baucus would be co-sponsoring the legislation with Tester.
Montanans, I’m sure, are generally familiar with the authority and influence that the senior Sen. Baucus holds now in the U.S. Senate. It’s a position that can’t come easily, especially when one considers that Baucus is a Democrat in a state that tends to vote the other political direction, a fact that seems to make some sit uneasy. His accomplishments are a testament to the thought and care Baucus invests in his decision-making. Baucus doesn’t provide his endorsement fickly; he recognizes that a state with a prevalent conservative inclination will show him the door if he fails to produce beneficial results on progressive legislation. It must be a trying balance to maintain, but the ultimate effect is sensible and responsive representation.
Another word for it is pragmatism, which for me having lived in this state my entire life, is a decidedly Montanan sensibility. We’re less concerned here with ideology than on-the-ground results. Inevitably, such a commitment to practicality requires compromise, humility and perspective, all of which were ingredients in this legislation. If one looks toward those who oppose this bill, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these qualities in abundance. Less moderate environmental organizations—many with external, national affiliations—are among the more vocal. That’s because they remain dedicated to axioms that don’t fit reality. The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) is their manifestation, a land management policy that is as antiquated as it is foolhardy.
Opponents of the other persuasion along with some media outlets try to frame this legislation as a kind of wilderness advocate conspiracy. The suggestion seems to be that conservationists have something to gain by expediting the process. It is true that during Tester’s open house, the details he chose to emphasize related more to stewardship contracting than they did to wilderness acreage. That’s because the inclusion of wilderness in the bill is a well documented, if not excessively belabored component of the legislation, while the fact that 7,000 acres of trees will be cut every year for 10 years seems to get lost somewhere in the squabble. Once again, truth belies popular misconception: It is the wood-products industry that has the most to gain from prompt passage of this bill. Wilderness advocates, in fact, have the luxury of time with NREPA constantly looming in the background, introduced with each congressional session and gaining credence, while Montana’s logging and milling operations die a slow death of attrition until Montana no longer has the harvesting infrastructure to manage its vast acreages of public land.
Before anyone had even conceived of something like the Clean Water Act on the national level, Montana wrote the commitment to such in its very state constitution. Montana has been establishing precedents in the arena of land policy and politics since it joined the union. Now we as a state have the opportunity to perpetuate that legacy once again.