Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester renewed their push for conservation and logging bills on Tuesday at a wide-ranging Senate Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee hearing.

Baucus made an impassioned plea for passage of his Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (S.364), which would manage much of the public land between Augusta and Browning for recreation, grazing and motorized access, while designating 67,000 acres of new wilderness on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

Tester sought support for his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S.37), calling it a way “to break through the gridlock that’s characterized forest management over the years.” The bill would mandate logging and thinning on at least 100,000 acres of national forest land over 15 years while designating 666,000 acres of new wilderness, 289,000 acres of recreation areas and 80,000 acres of special-use areas.

Both senators also backed Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s S.1300, which would reauthorize the U.S. Forest Service’s stewardship contracting authority. Stewardship contracts allow the agency to essentially barter timber harvests for restoration and maintenance work on national forest lands.

“Montanans want to keep the Front the way it is,” Baucus said, adding the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act would help control invasive weeds while protecting traditional access for sportsmen, motorized use and ranching. He joked that the bill’s drafting involved draining both coffee cups and beer taps as it gathered support.

Tester said his bill was the tool the Forest Service needed to both support the timber industry and settle decades-old wilderness debates.

“We need to break through the gridlock that’s characterized forest management over the years,” Tester told the committee. Mandating forest harvest levels would ensure Montana’s lumber infrastructure didn’t collapse while adding wilderness would boost the region’s recreation economy, he said.

Deputy Forest Service Chief Leslie Weldon offered strong praise for both bills, although she said the agency still wanted to work on some changes to Tester’s legislation.

In her testimony, Weldon said the Forest Service remains concerned about Congress providing specific forest management directives and harvest targets. She also asked for more work defining what Tester meant by “mechanical treatment” in forest management, as well as how he sees the agency handling reporting requirements and other priorities elsewhere in the country.

Nevertheless, Tester staff members said they were pleased with the increasingly positive response the Forest Service gave the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. When it debuted in 2010, Forest Service officials offered numerous objections to the bill.

In Montana, Tester bill supporter Sherm Anderson of Sun Mountain Lumber said the act’s timber mandate on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest would just about meet the Deer Lodge mill’s annual timber requirement. The bill would ask that forest to produce at least 4,600 acres of timber a year for harvest, and Sun Mountain harvests about 7,142 acres a year.

“So far we’re able to get by, but in order to do so, we’re bringing wood out of southern Idaho off Idaho state lands,” Anderson said. “And we’re bringing wood out of Wyoming and Colorado by rail. They’ve got no infrastructure left in Colorado, so they’ve got no place to go.”

Baucus and Tester also supported a bill reauthorizing the Army National Guard’s use of the Limestone Hills as a training ground. But Army officials raised concerns about the bill’s provision allowing more mining in the area.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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(2) comments

The Marshal
The Marshal

Here we go again! Doesn't look like a lot of support from the FS to me as those are some important questions to answer. Nice spin Tester staff. I wonder who will set the price of this mechanical treatment that will be used to pay for the public timber. Hmm, I bet FS would use industry prices for the mechanical destruction. Hey, I want some of this action! What makes these guys special? Seems to me that all should be treated equally when it involves resources that belong to the public.


Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler

Senator Tester wants to forever change the way America's national forests are managed by simply having politicians mandate a dramatic increase in logging levels, at a time when US lumber consumption is down nearly 50%.

Tester claims "gridlock" prevents logging, but between 2008 and 2012 the US Forest Service sold enough timber sales in Montana and N. Idaho to fill over 239,000 logging trucks, which if lined up, would stretch for 2,048 miles.

It's also crazy and naive to think that getting Rep Daines and the GOP involved in Tester's mandated logging bill wouldn't make this bad bill that much worse. The Montana Wilderness Association can spend millions of dollars on fancy ads, focus group polling and one-sided dog-n-pony shows to try and trick Montanans and Americans into thinking otherwise, but these facts remain the same.

-------------------

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act contains several major precedent-setting provisions potentially detrimental to national public lands management. These include:

1) Localizing of National Forest management by private, local entities for private profit. This could represent the fragmentation of National Forest system management and regulations to a serious degree and ignores the basic principle that national public lands belong to all Americans, not just those in nearby local communities.

2) Mandated logging of National Forest land is an unscientific override of current forest planning by professional Forest Service staff.

3) Numerous unfunded mandates that allows funds to be drawn from other forests and Forest Service regions to implement FJRA, pitting forests against another for funding. This creates hard feelings and mistrust rather than cooperation.

4) Contains several provisions that abrogate the Wilderness Act by allowing non conforming uses including motorized access, and other intrusions.

5) Releases numerous Wilderness Study Areas protected by the late Senator Lee Metcalf.

For these and other reasons, over 50 forest and wilderness organizations around the country oppose Senator Tester's mandated logging bill, the FJRA.

Thank you.

Matthew Koehler
WildWest Institute

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