Talking it out

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I appreciate the passionate comments regarding Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act written by Marilyn Olsen and others in recent pages of the Independent (see “Tester taken to task,” Feb. 11, 2010). I too love Montana’s wild places and recognize their ecological and cultural significance. That’s true of most Missoulians. What is also true is that Tester’s bill is the product of an open public process with promise to restore inclusive deliberation and adaptability to natural resource decision-making in the West.

All three of the projects in Tester’s bill had websites up for everyone to view for more than a year before the senator introduced his bill last July. I personally helped organize one of many public meetings on the Blackfoot Clearwater project at the Missoula Public Library last May that was attended by over 120 people.

Tester’s bill designates over 670,000 acres of new wilderness in 25 new areas. These areas range from the low country of Roderick Mountain in northwest Montana to the high country of the Lima Peaks in southwest Montana. The bill would include no less than six areas in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness and five additions to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area.

The bill calls for 7,000 acres to be treated in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest annually for 10 years. The bill gives local contractors agency to conduct fuels reduction and thinning in the wildland-urban interface, where the Forest Service has identified an immediate need to mitigate severe fire risk to homes and communities. In a forest where1.6 million acres are marked “suitable” for timber harvest, treating just 4 percent of the available land is a remarkably moderate goal.

That this bill has generated such fervent public dialogue illustrates how much people care about public land. I hope this bill sets a precedent for more place-based, collaborative land management decisions to come.

Alex Hessler

Missoula

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