Tester’s bill can break logjam on forest policy

The Billings Gazette

by Marc Racicot

I was blessed to be born in northwestern Montana and to grow up in the middle of the majestic and towering forests surrounding Libby. I loved those trees then and, like so many Americans, I love them even more now. My ancestors were involved with logging for a very long time, starting with my grandfather, a logging camp cook who came to Montana with a timber company from Minnesota early on in the last century before the advent of logging trucks.

I have been deeply saddened for a long time by the condition of our Western forests and the catastrophic damage, in the form of disease, wildfires, destruction of wildlife habitat and the degradation of water quality and fisheries, that constantly threatens and all too frequently destroys them.

I'm confident I'm not unlike everyone who cares deeply about the quality of life and natural environment we share in Montana.

For a quarter-century, while I served in government, I was close to the debates and decisions at the state and national level that focused on exactly the same issues and exactly the same arguments one can observe today. By any measure of movement or accomplishment, we have not achieved nearly enough in that period of time to even mitigate, much less obviate, the possibilities for calamity in our forests. While we have debated and litigated, the degradation and damage has continued to surreptitiously creep through our landscapes. It is the modern-day equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

That's why I've been heartened by and grateful for the efforts of those diverse interests and groups who have worked hard and long over several years to design three community-based forest projects that have now become embodied in federal legislation, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester. Like all of our human affairs, the legislation may not be perfect, but it is a thoughtful and sensitive attempt to start doing something serious and meaningful about the health of our forest ecosystems and the diverse interests that revere and depend upon them. Resting upon a strong, broad-based desire to do something more than "fiddle" while our forests burned, the community-based initiatives and Sen. Tester's legislation reflect a careful balance of interests and imperatives that each deserve consideration in the management of our forest landscapes.

My sincere hope is that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will be acted upon by Congress without delay and that we can sooner, rather than later, begin a new day in forest management and stewardship of our natural treasures.

Marc Racicot, former Montana governor, spends as much time as he can in Helena and Bigfork, but travels extensively to serve on boards for MassMutual, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Avista and Allied Capital.