After touring a multipurpose timber project north of Frenchtown, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Wednesday he hopes to convince his congressional colleagues of the need for more such work.
“We’re keeping a close eye on what happens in the House,” Daines said during a roundtable discussion at the Boone and Crockett Club headquarters in Missoula. “Right now, I think it’s better to work with the other senators than to have our own bill. If that doesn’t come together, then put our own bill out there. We want a reform bill on President (Barack) Obama’s desk that he will sign – that’s success.”
Daines, R-Mont., said the Frenchtown Face Stewardship project is a good example of how collaborative proposals can keep forestry jobs viable while meeting conservation needs.
The project combines a mix of commercial logging, hazardous fuels removal, culvert replacement and road decommissioning.
Lolo National Forest Supervisor Tim Garcia led the tour and spoke with Daines afterward. Garcia said the Lolo has some of the nation’s highest percentage of forests encroaching on urban areas.
Projects like the Frenchtown Face are a good way to reduce wildfire risk to homes and property on the wildland-urban interface, he said.
Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation said he thought the kind of “soft harvest” underway on the Frenchtown Face is an example of careful logging that both conservationists and industry members can support.
“What we saw today was a really wonderful thing,” France told Daines. “It gives a different perspective of what’s possible with harvesting methods, and builds confidence in the agency. The question is how do we get through the political thicket to make this possible?”
“There’s a growing appetite in Washington to get something done with forest management reform,” Daines replied.
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Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., has introduced a forestry bill in the House of Representatives that could come up for debate in July. That should reveal how much bipartisan support exists for various kinds of harvest proposals and other mandates.
On a separate track, reform of the way the nation pays for wildland firefighting costs could also come through this year.
Daines said he supports funding forest fires as natural disasters, rather than forcing the U.S. Forest Service to rearrange its annual budget to cover unpredictable expenses.
Whether that wildfire funding might be linked to the broader forest reform legislation is undecided, Daines said.
Meanwhile, he is pushing for incentives that would help collaborative projects gain approval, including some kind of fast-track dispute resolution or simplification of National Environmental Policy Act review.
But he declined to say if he would consider more direct funding for the Forest Service to undertake additional collaborative projects, which are now funded on a limited, competitive basis.
“We’re going to look at all the options,” Daines said of adding more collaborative projects to the Forest Service budget. “They’ve shown to be successful in Montana.”