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  Comments (2) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
 
Tester’s Forest Jobs Act Sails Through Committee
After more than four years, bill clears hurdle and moves toward Senate consideration
U.S. Senator Jon Tester | Courtesy photo
The latest draft of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which would expand wilderness designations and increase logging on Montana’s federal lands, has cleared an important hurdle and is positioned for consideration by the full Senate.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Dec. 19 reviewed the bill, which received bipartisan support. With the committee’s approval, the measure is poised to go before the full Senate.

The bill has undergone changes since it was introduced in 2009, during the senator’s first term, when he touted the measure as a compromise between stakeholders in the timber industry, conservationists and recreational users, and the product of a lengthy collaboration among diverse land users and business owners.

In its most recent iteration, the bill leaves intact a mandate to harvest or thin 100,000 acres of timber in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai national forests during the next 15 years, but converts some 23,000 acres of proposed wilderness into less-restrictive recreation areas that allow motorized use.

Still, Tester said the latest version is in line with the spirit of his measure.

“The intent of the bill is still there,” Tester said in an interview with the Beacon. “The roots of collaboration are still there, and that’s no small part of what makes this bill special.”

The bill designates roughly 637,000 acres of new wilderness and reserves about 360,000 acres as recreation areas that permit some commercial and motorized use. Another change in the newest draft requires the U.S. Forest Service to file a compliance report in the event it fails to meet performance requirements, and a guarantee that it won’t defer funds from other state programs or Forest Service regions.

“That’s important because it holds the Forest Service accountable and won’t pull money from other regions,” Tester said.

The committee passed Tester’s bill on a voice vote, with all nine Democrats present voting in favor, including Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Eight Republican committee members voted against Tester’s bill, including co-chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, while two Republicans, James Risch of Idaho and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, joined the Democrats in support of the measure.

“The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will designate and provide land for forest management projects such as hazardous fuels reductions and provide timber materials for mills, creating jobs and all the good things that flow from job creation. It also designates some areas as wilderness,” Risch said. “Although this law applies to Montana lands, it directly affects Idahoans. The original proposal closed the southern portion of Mt. Jefferson to snowmobiling. This area is accessed directly from Idaho and is enjoyed by Idahoans who snowmobile in that area. I have heard from many Idahoans protesting that closure.”

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was first introduced in 2009, Tester’s first term in office, as a measure to roll three local initiatives on the Lolo, Kootenai and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests into one comprehensive bill.

It was seen as a compromise, and the latest version of the bill would convert 20,000 acres of proposed Snowcrest Wilderness Area into a special management area that allows farmers and ranchers access on motorized vehicles to maintain water systems.

Still, Murkowski questioned the bill’s fairness given that it permanently designates nearly 1 million acres of wilderness and recreation and 100,000 acres for timber harvesting.

It also had plenty of supporters in conservation and sportsmen groups across the state.

Nick Gevock at the Montana Wildlife Federation said he’s seen scores of endorsements from Montana’s hook and bullet community.

“Sportsmen I talk to understand that Montana’s general five-week rifle season depends on secure habitat for big game,” said Gevock. “The Forest legislation continues to pick up momentum from hunters and anglers because it will protect those vital habitats while also ensuring that good restoration work gets done in the front country winter range.”

Wayne Hirst, a small business owner in Libby and longtime supporter of the legislation says he hopes to see bipartisan support from lawmakers next year.

“For my community’s sake, I would like to see this bill passed and done with in 2014,” said Hirst. “Obviously, that would be easier if Congress could be a bit more like Montana and approach this like the bipartisan issue it is.”
 
On 12-25-13, fcb commented....
Clever lawyers still will delay the public accessing public lands for more decades - by finding friendly Judges who will award large cash settlements to the clever lawyers… and avoid public hearings as they close more public lands.
 
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