Forest Jobs Act key to future success

The Helena Independent Record

by Steve Flynn

I have been a forester for private industry in southwestern Montana for over 30 years. I remember the days when meetings with the “enviros” consisted of shouting matches and dagger-eyed looks across the table at our mortal enemies. I have also experienced the decline in the management of our natural resources as the Forest Service lost case after case in our federal courts.

We have almost ground to a halt. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is a new approach that promises to breathe fresh air into the contentious and stale debate over natural resource management on federal lands. I believe this collaborative effort is the key to successful management in the future.

Congressman Rehberg has raised several issues as a result of the listening sessions that need to be addressed.

First of all, the idea of “consensus” as a goal in natural resource management, or any contentious issue for that matter, is impossible. When is the last time a consensus vote was reached in the House of Representatives? In order to have consensus, there has to be compromise. For instance, those who demand that all roadless areas become wilderness and those who will not accept any wilderness additions will never achieve consensus. This is where we have been for the past 35 years. These groups have not been excluded from the process. There have been hundreds of meetings and ample opportunity for them to come to the table. Due to their unbending demands, they have excluded themselves from the process.

The second issue is “hard release.” That is, the removal of multiple-use lands from threats of appeals and litigation in exchange for wilderness designation. A great idea but, unfortunately, an individual’s right to sue the government is guaranteed by the Constitution, and I don’t think we want to mess with that. This bill gets as close to hard release as is possible by mandating the Forest Service to actively manage 7,000 acres a year on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and 3, 000 acres a year on the Kootenai. Proposed activities on these lands will have to go through the entire Forest Service analysis process but they will have the support of law and the active support of a wide spectrum of interest groups. It is not a guarantee, but it is about 100 percent better than we have had. Congressman Rehberg supports the Clearwater portion of this bill, which has no specific mandate for acres of active management, so perhaps this has been resolved.

This has not been an easy process for those who have been actively involved over the last four years, and it is not yet completed. I hope Congressman Rehberg recognizes the effort that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act represents and supports its passage.

Steve Flynn, of Deer Lodge, is a longtime private industry forester.