Forest bill politics

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Over the past two years many Montanans—as well as Americans—have expressed serious, substantive concerns with Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Concerns have included the mandated minimum logging levels, motors and other incompatible uses in designated wilderness, negative impacts to Forest Service budgets in our region and turning some wildlands and Wilderness Study Areas into permanent motorized recreation areas. These serious concerns are a major reason why Tester’s bill never made it out of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate and never was introduced in the U.S. House.

Instead of honestly listening to these concerns and making the needed changes to his bill, in recent weeks Sen. Tester worked behind the scenes to attach his bill as a rider to a completely unrelated $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that ran 2,000 pages long. It’s unfortunate that Sen. Tester chose such a course, but I’m certainly glad that the entire omnibus spending bill was pulled from the Senate floor late last week, as Tester’s logging bill wasn’t the only pork-filled rider/earmark glued onto that bill at the 11th hour by senators of both political parties.

While Sen. Tester likes to say this is a jobs bill for the timber industry, new home construction in America is down 70 percent and overall U.S. wood consumption is down 50 percent. Just where are all these forests Sen. Tester wants cut down going to end up? The fact is that the Forest Service ended 2009 with more timber volume already under contract to loggers and mills in our region than any point in the last decade. The Forest Service in Montana also has more logging, thinning, fuel reduction and restoration projects in the pipeline than at any point in recent memory. Still mills either closed or have dramatically reduced their work force. Why? Because the global economic crisis continues to drag on with little real relief in sight. Besides, should we—or can we—really go back to the over-consumption and over-development of recent decades? Congress stepping in to mandate more public lands logging in this context is irrational. Furthermore, Sen. Tester giving the newly elected GOP majority in the U.S. House cover to introduce their own bills mandating more logging, oil and gas development, mining and grazing on federal public lands in their own states is irresponsible and threatens America’s public lands legacy.

Hopefully, if Sen. Tester decides to introduce his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in the next session of Congress, he’ll establish a true open, inclusive and transparent process and do a better job of listening to these substantive concerns and make the required changes to his bill.

Matthew Koehler

WildWest Institute

Missoula

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