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Seeing the Forest For the Trees

Sen. Jon Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to mixed reviews. What should we make of his first significant legislation?

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Sen. Jon Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to mixed reviews. What should we make of his first significant legislation?

Last Saturday, just one day after he introduced his much-anticipated Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, Sen. Jon Tester stood before a crowd of 100 at the Seeley Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and pitched the bill to the rest of Montana. As Tester delivered his remarks, the Lolo National Forest, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Swan Range—all treasured areas impacted by his proposal—stood over his shoulders in the distance. Directly behind Tester, another significant image dominated the audience's viewshed—an empty logging truck displaying a giant sign that read, "Thank You Senator Tester."

Tester told the crowd the scenery was fitting. If Congress passes the junior senator's most significant legislation to date, Montanans should expect more wilderness, more recreation and more jobs. As the name of Tester's bill implies, the goal is to put loggers back to work by harvesting trees and restoring the forest.

Tester's message played well in a town hit hard by lagging timber prices, and logging companies laud the bill's merits. Thousands of loggers have lost jobs with lumber demand waning and Tester's bill—if it passes—offers them guaranteed work for the next 10 years.

Environmental groups invited to help craft the bill also say it's an encouraging example of once-bitter rivals working together to save Montana's wilderness. In exchange for logging certain areas, timber companies must invest in stewardship projects that will help ensure the long-term health of the forests.

But the bill's critics, including one prominent former Tester supporter and environmental groups left out of the planning process, aren't ready to join hands just yet. They argue the stewardship model isn't financially sustainable, and relies heavily on appropriations from a separate bill. They claim Tester broke campaign promises and decided to work with only a select group of stakeholders to develop the bill in secret, a process that excluded public input. They also worry about the bill's legal precedent.

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