As Montanans, we all have a lot to gain from better stewardship of our national forests. We depend on our public lands for jobs, clean water, and outdoor recreation. More and more, however, it becomes more evident that few stand to benefit as much as business owners, even those whose businesses aren't tied to public lands in any obvious way. As a business owner, I see our unique outdoor heritage as Montana's competitive economic advantage.
Montana Wilderness News: Editorials
It's not exactly a match made in heaven, but a match made by the Montana electorate.
The state's congressional delegation, when Congress reconvenes in the new year, will consist of U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, Democrats who have both served in their respective posts for several years now, and newly elected Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines.
While politicians are busy reminding us at every opportunity that it's election season, it's important that Montanans across the state take a moment to remind candidates that we're also in the middle of a different season: hunting season. And if there's one message that hunters need to send to candidates for office, it's that good wildlife habitat equals good hunting.
Shortly after Senator Jon Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA), I got a call from a woman worried about Tester taking away her elderly friends' right to drive their pickup into the East Pioneer Mountains to enjoy summer picnics.
"Wait a minute," I replied. "Don't you and your friends understand
that wilderness only involves the wildest, most remote places where there are no roads?" I explained that the places where we drive on forest roads aren't roadless lands. They're not affected in any way by wilderness designations.
Montana’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act again came close to passage last month. The bill aimed at creating jobs and improving forest management enjoys strong support in Montana and growing support in the U.S. Senate.
By talking, we learned that many things that people and groups want from the forest aren't mutually exclusive.
As timber mill owners and managers in Montana, we’re disappointed that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a bill to create jobs for loggers and mill workers, was prevented from passing in Congress last week. Hundreds of workers in our mills, along with hundreds of independent contractors and vendors we work with, all supporting hundreds of families and whole communities throughout Western Montana, are disappointed by congressional inaction on this bill.
I served as Regional Forester for the Forest Service here in Montana and as the Chief of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. Over the years, I have watched how the heavy traffic of opinion about public land management has grown more and more contentious, until our management processes resemble traffic jams. As so much comes to a halt, our forests suffer.
More recently however, I've found cause for encouragement in the local community partnerships on three national forests in Montana, partnerships that laid the groundwork for Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
As the 112th Congress convened, Sen. Jon Tester reintroduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act as Senate Bill 268. The bill was first introduced in July 2009. Sen. Tester has dedicated nearly two years crafting a piece of legislation emphasizing forest restoration, job creation, enhanced recreation and wilderness designation. Through unprecedented public involvement, repeated revisions and transparency, Tester has delivered a bill to Washington that embodies Montana's traditional land values and current need for healthy forests.
Bravo to the members of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project whose op-ed recently appeared in the Missoulian (April 28). Key to their success has been the inclusive nature of developing the agreed-upon management approach.
However, the authors encourage passage of Sen. Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to build upon and complete the work they have begun. Until the iconic landscapes are permanently protected for wildlife habitat and as sources of clean water, the work isn't yet done.