Tester greets friends, foes of forest bill

The Montana Standard

by Tim Trainor

There were no fireworks Thursday as U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., spoke in support of the controversial Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

The open house, which lasted about two hours, drew roughly 75 people to Butte's Holiday Inn.

Tester opened with a 30-minute presentation on the meat of the legislation, which he introduced last summer, followed by remarks from Sun Mountain Lumber owner Sherm Anderson of Deer Lodge.

Tester said that the time is right to address the status of federal lands across the western half of the state. He said that if Montana's congressional delegation didn't rise to the challenge, someone from another state would.

The senator emphasized that the bill is homegrown — "made in Montana." Mill owner Anderson said lumber companies had been opposed to the last bill, back in 1988, because of the way it addressed wilderness. But the decline in the lumber business in the last two decades has prompted industry leaders to rethink their opposition.

"This is a good piece of legislation for all of Montana," said Anderson. He said he had traveled throughout the state trying to "convince people we are doing the right thing here." He had not convinced everyone in the crowd, however. Some carried signs against Tester, his decision not to answer questions in a large public forum and what they felt are slights to the motorized use community. They included members of the Mining City Trail Riders, a local organization.

Tester stayed for more than an hour after the presentation to speak and debate with both proponents and opponents of the bill in small groups.

Jack Jones, who sat in the first row and approached Tester immediately after the presentation, was upset with the way the senator communicated with the constituency. He said he thought some groups were kept out of the process of forming the bill.

Tester said many groups from divergent viewpoints were included in forming the bill and he reminded Jones that input is still being collected and changes could be made.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where it remains, awaiting a hearing. Tester's office said the hearing will be held by the end of the year.