Montana once boasted a strong timber industry that helped maintain healthy forests, supported local jobs and provided a steady revenue stream for our counties and schools.

But in recent decades, inflexible federal policies and unrelenting appeals and lawsuits have imposed a huge administrative burden on federal agencies, limited our mills’ access to timber and ultimately resulted in the mismanagement of our forests, leaving our homes and businesses at risk for wildfire.

A U.S. Forest Service official recently acknowledged that the abundance of litigation has played a “huge role” in blocking responsible timber sales in Montana and other Region 1 states, including projects supported by collaborative groups consisting of timber and conservation leaders.

“It has virtually shut things down on the National Forest,” U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Hubbard stated during a recent Natural Resources Committee hearing.

The result: Montana used to be home to more than 30 lumber mills. Now we have just seven.

This has left numerous Montana counties without the necessary funds to provide for communities’ needs, like emergency services and pay for teachers. It has also left our forests more vulnerable to wildfire. Last summer, Montana experienced one of the worst fire seasons in our state’s history, and this year’s fires have already consumed thousands of acres of trees. This is unacceptable.

Over the past few months, I’ve met with managers of Montana’s lumber mills, conservation groups and local elected officials to have candid conversations about how we can revitalize our timber industry and keep our forests healthy.

Because as most Montanans recognize, the responsible and active management of our national forests is critical for the health of Montana’s economy, as well as the health of our forests themselves.

That’s why I’m proud to have helped introduce the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. This bill will help revitalize the timber industry throughout Montana and create thousands of good, long-term jobs. It also tackles beetle kill, protecting our environment for future generations and reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires in Montana.

The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act will cut the red tape that has held up responsible forest management and timber production. It includes comprehensive reforms to discourage and limit the flood of frivolous appeals and litigation. It also requires the Forest Service to increase timber harvests on non-wilderness lands, now that it will have much-needed latitude to do its work. This improved management will protect the health of our forests and watersheds, the safety of our communities and jobs in the timber industry.

In addition, the legislation restores the federal government’s commitment to provide 25 percent of timber sales receipts to timber counties. It also extends the Secure Rural Schools program pending the full operation of the new timber program. SRS has provided crucial stopgap funding to timber counties after timber sales – and the corresponding receipts – plunged in recent decades.

I recently had the privilege of welcoming Chuck Roady, the vice president and general manager of F. H. Stoltze Land and Lumber in Columbia Falls, to Washington, D.C. as a witness for a House Natural Resources hearing on forest and fire management.

During the hearing, Chuck Roady perfectly summed up the challenges we face. He said:

“This is a nonpartisan, non-regional issue. It’s simply the case of doing the right thing to manage our public forest. If we don’t, Mother Nature is going to do it for us and when she does it, it’s uncontrollable and catastrophic.”

As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know too well how devastating wildfires can be to our communities, our state’s economy and the health of our forests.

I am not content to sit back and let the status quo prevail. As Montana’s representative in Congress, I’ll continue fighting for solutions that address these challenges.

U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

(2) comments


I am so weary of the never ending, strident cacophony from the timber industry—and their minions—such as Steve Daines and Jon Tester, screeching that we MUST log the forests because they are “unhealthy.” (Forest health, of course, being determined by those that stand to profit the most from said logging.) Does this imply that we should log our national parks and wilderness areas because they are “unhealthy,” as well? Why is it that, according to the timber industry, every “problem” with the forests can be solved by logging? Fire danger: log the trees. Beetle kill: log the trees. Too much understory: log the trees. How convenient for the industry that the supposed cure will make them a profit.
I’m sorry, but Mother Nature knows best how to manage our wildlands, not the loggers, not the forestry schools, and certainly not the Forest Service, all of which are in cahoots with each other to “get out the cut” regardless of the damage to the ecosystem. Daines’ notion that “Montana used to be home to more than 30 lumber mills. Now we have just seven” is the fault of litigation is counterfactual—could it be that the reduction in mills has something to do with overharvesting, mill automation, and the reduction in demand for lumber? The timber industry long ago made the decision to commit itself to “accelerated harvest” and now the Pacific Northwest is covered with massive clearcuts—a testimony to a greedy industry that would log the very last tree for a dollar and never look back.
Congressman Daines, you are exactly what we don’t need in Congress: another Tea Party hack that will push cellulose gluttony to the detriment of us all…especially Montanans. (BTW, Steve, how is it that you being a “fifth generation Montanan” has anything at all to do with this issue? Pulling the native Montanan card by implying that you have more rights…and more say than non-natives because you were born here is in the same category as racism. People don’t get to pick where they’re born or what race or sex they’re born as, so stop that pathetic notion that being born here matters for anything.)
Again, Congressman, we don’t need letters such as this from our Congressional representatives; you need to concentrate on representing the people—not a dying industry with an indefensible agenda.

Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler

Here are the facts and specifics which Rep Daines failed to provide about his mandated logging bill, the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.”
The bill would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county payments program, simultaneously creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablishing the discredited 25% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.
Furthermore, under Rep Daines' bill, public participation and Endangered Species Act protections would be severely limited. The bill creates huge loopholes in NEPA and such biased ESA requirements that in practice these laws would almost never meaningfully apply. For example, any project less than 10,000 acres (that’s 15.6 square miles) would be categorically excluded from environmental analysis and public participation, and the Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Montanans have heard one of our members of Congress promoting politically-mandated logging of America's National Forests. Remember, Senator Jon Tester has his very own mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
Of course, much of the “support” for Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill is being manufactured and orchestrated by the Montana Wilderness Association with the ample assistance of over 1/2 million dollars from the Pew Foundation’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness. That amount of money goes a long ways in a state like Montana, with collaborator environmental groups like the Montana Wilderness Association spending the money on internal focus groups, one-sided internal polling (which is presented to the public as independent and unbiased), “public” presentations where only supporters of the bill are allowed to present and plenty of TV, radio and newspaper ads flooding the state. All the while, Montana Wilderness Association staffers have engaged in a pattern of censorship and removal of any substantive comments on their social media sites which mention anything critical about Tester’s mandated logging bill.
This summer, Montana Wilderness Association staff have been heavily courting Rep Steve Daines (R-MT) to introduce Tester’s bill in the House. People may have noticed that the Montana Wilderness Association has been actively getting their members to submit glowing Letters to the Editor about how great Steve Daines is and how he should join Sen Tester and Sen Baucus to support mandated logging of national forests in Montana.
At the beginning of summer, Missoulian opinion columnist George Ochenski wrote a piece titled, “Tester’s Forest Jobs Bill Plus Daines Bad for Conservation, and ended his piece with this prophetic statement:
“It’s a mystery why the conservation collaborators failed to understand these elementary principles of the legislative process. But if Tester’s bill ever clears the Senate – and Congressman Daines (R-MT) has his way in the House – they are about to learn a very hard and environmentally costly lesson. And more’s the pity for Montana.”
Well, here we are a few months following Ochenski’s dire warning to the environmental “collaborators” supporting Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill. This opinion piece by Rep Daines supporting his own version of a mandated logging bill – the ironically titled, "Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act" – gives people in Montana and across the country (especially those who value Wilderness and public lands) an indication of 1) just where Rep Daines wants to take national forest policy; and 2) just how irresponsible and naive the environmental “collaborators” are if they think Rep Daines will be their big Wilderness and public lands protection champion.
Obviously, while politically mandated logging of America’s national forests is a terrible, dangerous precedent for the environmental community to push for, it goes without saying that Rep Daines and the GOP would make the bad provisions within Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill that much worse, as evidence by Rep Daines and the GOP's own version of a mandated logging bill.
It will be interesting to see if any of the environmental “collaborators” at the Montana Wilderness Association supporting Tester’s mandated logging bill will actually rise up and speak out against Rep Daines mandated logging bill, or if they will remain silent about the specifics of Rep Daines mandated logging bill continue to generate favorable Letters to the Editor about Rep Daines on public lands issues.
For more detailed information, see: "Will Enviro Collaborators Support Rep Daines Mandated Logging Bill?"

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