Forest bill should be pursued in next session of Congress

Helena Independent Record

by Missoula County Commissioners; Lewis and Clark County Commissioners; Broadwater County Commissioners; Granite County Commissioner Susie Browning; Pyramid Mountain Lumber; Roseburg Forest Products; and Marks Lumber.

Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is an opportunity for a good, homegrown, collaborative, Montana bill to create jobs and manage forests in Western Montana. Unfortunately, an unwillingness to acknowledge the collaborative approach to this bill could jeopardize any constructive movement in the local forests and could result in the loss of timber industry jobs in our communities and dollars spent on Main Street.

Western Montana needs jobs in the woods and we need to manage our forests.

Over the past several years, individuals from groups that were often seen as opposing sides of the logging vs. wilderness debate came together to look for Montana solutions. These folks recognized that continuing to fight over logging sales, wilderness areas, trout streams and recreation spots would only result in a stalemate. Mother Nature reminds us through forest fire and beetle infestation that our forests need to be managed — both for forest health and fire-wise protection. Unmanaged forests also threaten our trout streams, aquatic and wildlife habitat and wilderness areas. The collaborative approach was, therefore, mutually beneficial.

For some forests it could be too late. Those of us who live in this region know this well. We have watched landscapes that were lush and green turn bright red and now gray with bug kill. We’ve seen vibrant communities struggle. So do we admit defeat and quit? Or is this the time to get serious about managing what we have left and create sustainable jobs in the process? These individuals drafted reasonable, collaborative solutions and then asked Sen. Tester to carry legislation to resolve these issues. He listened.

We are fortunate to still have enough of our wood products industry infrastructure in the remaining mills to continue to provide that management and promote forest health where we can. However, without an adequate timber supply that comes from responsible management, we could be in danger of losing this infrastructure in the future. It is hard to believe that a state with this much timber and in such a high demand for forest restoration can’t keep our timber industry working.

R-Y Timber in Townsend, Marks Lumber in Clancy, Sun Mountain in Deer Lodge, Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company in Seeley Lake and Roseburg Forest Products in Missoula are major employers in the region with hundreds of employees who make Montana their home and are dedicated members of our communities.

These firms continue to improve their business technology, add new products and create new jobs. This helps to achieve vibrant communities and healthier forests. Many related businesses count on these companies for a substantial potion of their income with their ancillary components to the timber industry.

This is not a wilderness bill, it is a jobs bill with recreation and wilderness components designed to protect the things we love about our state. The people who live, work and recreate here came together to find collaborative solutions for forest health, forest jobs, fire protection and recreation. The collaboration required under the bill gives all parties a stake in planning individual stewardship projects on federal land. It will give Western Montana the opportunity to show the nation there is a way to harvest timber, manage stewardship projects, allow multiple-use, and protect wilderness.

Rep. Rehberg, without this collaborative jobs bill, we will lose even more jobs in Western Montana and potentially the remaining infrastructure needed to continue to process our own timber. As the next Congress convenes, we encourage you to help pass the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Without your help, Montana will never be able to jumpstart forest management in any meaningful way. Our counties cannot afford the financial hardship that will result from doing nothing.

Sen. Tester, thanks for listening to individuals from all sides that brought this bill forward. Thanks for listening to Montanans and our need for jobs. This bill is proof that we can work together to find a solution and get things done. Government is often criticized for not taking action until it’s too late. It would be a mistake not to pursue this legislation in the next session of Congress.