Forty years is long enough

The Montana Standard

by Dave Lewis

In 1969 I was working for the Forest Service and was sent to Dillon to be the budget officer on the Beaverhead National Forest. My wife fell in love with the town immediately and the fishing was and is the best. There was even a sawmill with jobs! What could go wrong?

Suddenly the peace and quiet was broken. The forest became embroiled almost immediately in a Forest Resource Planning effort that turned into a rock fight between wilderness advocates and those who believed in timber management, including logging. Forty years ago and I can still remember meetings that went nowhere.

Let's jump forward to 1988-89 and Congress was considering a wilderness bill proposed by Pat Williams. Williams was quoted in The Montana Standard in July saying that if a compromise bill could not be passed, "it could mean the closing of lumber mills." The Montana Wildlands Coalition said it would prefer to "see no new Montana Wilderness Bill rather than one as limited as Williams' Bill." This was 1988. Nothing happened.

Twenty years later, in 2009, we have seen mills close and over-mature stands of timber burn. We have managed to get the worst of both worlds. When the timber industry and some major conservation groups reached a compromise on a bill which would settle this dispute this year, I was amazed. I never expected to live long enough to see it happen. Now we have another rock fight with opposition from other preservation and some multiple use groups.

I am reading the same rhetoric from groups that have been fighting this for more than 40 years. The timber industry is desperately trying to survive. We are going to have to look at new products such as power production and innovative ways of producing old products for them to make it. This is going to require access to some of the area that has been locked up for so long.

Opposition groups need to recognize that rather than letting the timber die and burn in catastrophic fires, we can utilize it to create good-paying jobs and preserve the infrastructure we still have. They have to compromise and they have a vehicle to do that in the bill that Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus are sponsoring.

Our first great grandchild will be born this winter. I would like her to be able to live where there are at least a few jobs and some wilderness to be enjoyed. Let's pass this bill for the next generations and not wait another 40 years to make it happen. It is time!

Montana Sen. Dave Lewis, R- Helena, represents Senate District 42, which includes Powell County. He may be reached via e-mail at