ASUM excited about Tester forest proposal

The Missoulian

by Matthew Fennell

Recently, a committed group of conservationists came together to passionately discuss Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. The energy and excitement surrounding this legislation is nothing short of inspiring.

As president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana, I am filled with great pride because ASUM officially endorsed Tester’s bill last fall and has championed it ever since. It is bold, it is here, and it’s about time. We students should feel privileged, honored and responsible because this bill represents the future of conservation and forward-thinking forest management, and the University of Montana is at the center of the dialogue.

The University of Montana graduates roughly 2,000 students every year and many of us want to stay in a Montana that not only recognizes the importance of preserving our landscapes, but a state that has leaders committed to sustaining and supporting green collar jobs.

As future recreation managers, foresters and conservationists we want to see a rich blend activities on public land, activities that include the cultivation of home-grown timber, wilderness recreation, and responsible motorized travel when and where it is appropriate. We want these activities balanced on public land so that our last best places will always be a haven for wildlife and for people. We believe that our public lands should no longer be grounds for a tug of war.

For young people and young professionals today, is not simply a question of development or strict preservation – we are not that polarized, we are not that simplistic. Ultimately we are all conservationists. We want to grow and sustain our state’s economy by investing in rural economies and long-term conservation of public lands because they are not mutually exclusive goals.

This legislation is good for Montana and it is good for Missoula. It designates new wilderness areas, and expands existing areas. It will protect four major tributaries of the Clark Fork River: Rock Creek, Monture Creek, the North Fork of the Blackfoot and the headwaters of the Clearwater River. These waters replenish the Missoula aquifer and help ensure clean drinking water that no engineered system could do quite as beautifully, quite as elegantly, or as inexpensively. We can take heart that one of the economic engines that fuels Missoula, our beloved Clark Fork River, will be solidly protected by this bill.

The university has long been a center of excellence in forest management and conservation, and as the rest of the country turns towards Montana, they are expecting progressive governance of our natural resources and forward-thinking legislation that breaks through the political gridlock on public lands.

This bill may have its critics, but it is a product of years of collaboration on the part of conservation organizations, loggers and recreation enthusiasts who have come together to create workable solutions to generate and sustain vibrant rural economies and maintain healthy forest landscapes.

Students are hungry for change and eager for action. We want a Montana that gets things done. I represent students who embrace the wisdom of cooperation and applaud Tester for his leadership.

Matthew Fennell is president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana.