Stalled land management finally moving forward thanks to Tester's plan
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.
Like many Montanans, I read the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act when it was first introduced and I let Tester know that I supported his efforts, but I also took the time to offer a few suggestions. Then, over the next couple of years, I watched as something very uncommon happened. As the suggestions came in, changes were made and the bill got better and better.
With the news that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act may move forward in the Senate, as part of the Interior Appropriations bill, I think it's important to recognize why this legislation is both necessary and timely.
First, there are many areas in Montana that are long overdue for being protected as Wilderness. Almost half of the elk harvested in Montana come off the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, where most of the lands in this bill are located. The elk are there because the backcountry is there. Many of these special places, from the Sapphires to the Centennials, have been in limbo for decades and it's time for Congress to act.
Second, Tester's bill will enable the agency to take a larger, watershed approach to managing our forests. It gives the agency tools to help it succeed. And, it requires the use of stewardship contracting to accomplish much needed restoration work on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai national forests. This tool allows the Forest Service to harvest timber and reinvest that income in other local projects like removing unusable roads so that elk can flourish, or restoring streambeds to support native fish. I strongly support the use of stewardship contracting and I believe it is the tool of the future for accomplishing needed work on national forest system land.
Third – and perhaps most important – this bill is based on collaborative efforts across Montana. Members of communities from Deer Lodge to Troy who have historically been at odds did the hard work of working together. And they have stuck with it. That itself is huge. We need to make sure these efforts are rewarded so that we can build even stronger partnerships in the future.
The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said this about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and the work that went into it: "Decisions on how to use and protect our natural resources are never simple or clear cut. They require commitment and fortitude. They force conversations and compromise. They make us stronger by overcoming differences and looking toward the future."
I commend Montanans for working together on this vision. After a career of 41 years as a steward of our national forests, I'm truly encouraged by their commitment and fortitude.