Tester’s forest bill creates jobs, ends land gridlock

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Chris Naumann

The talk from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, D.C., is about economic recovery, stimulus efforts and job creation. Right here in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is a homegrown piece of economic stimulus legislation. Also known as Senate Bill 1470, Tester’s legislation will retain and create jobs in the struggling timber industry while at the same time support Montana’s recreationbased economy by designating wilderness and recreation areas.

Sen. Tester has collaborated with an unprecedented spectrum of groups to make this bill a reality: timber companies, conservation groups, ranchers and outfitters. But to make the economic benefits of the legislation a reality, Montana’s congressional delegates — all three of them — must come together in that same cooperative spirit and support the bill on Capital Hill.

There is consensus across the state that we need immediate action to save existing jobs and create new ones. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act will do both. And not just for one sector, but for a wide range of industries that all are critical to a diverse, healthy Montana economy:   timber, recreation, ranching, hunting, fishing and tourism. The senator’s bill contains commonsense solutions that will support the traditional employment sectors that have sustained the Montana economy for decades. This isn’t some piece of speculative stimulus being proposed   from Washington, D.C. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act was created by Montanans right here at home after years of collaborative compromise.

Montana’s timber industry is suffering from decades of politically gridlocked logging policy, the most significant recession in a generation, and a dangerous beetle kill endemic. In a letter to Rep. Rehberg, a recently laid off Smurfit Stone worker urged him to support Tester’s bill: “The urgency surrounding forest management decisions has reached crisis levels in western Montana. Our jobs and our forests   are in serious peril.” In the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Tester’s bill would open 7,000 acres to timber restoration and beetle-kill logging annually for a minimum of 10 years. This provision will retain and create timber jobs while mitigating wildfire risks and the impacts of the beetle kill.

Through a unique combination of initiatives, Tester’s forest bill not only supports the timber industry but also establishes several wilderness and recreation management areas. Montana, known around the world for its rugged mountains and secluded forests, has not designated a single acre of wilderness in nearly 30 years.

New wilderness would conserve critical pockets of backcountry for hikers, backpackers, hunters, and horse packers. In an effort to balance public land designations, the legislation also creates several Recreation Management Areas, which would provide access to ATVs, mountain bikes, motorcycles and snowmobiles. In the Beaverhead-Deerlodge region, Tester’s forest bill would create approximately 500,000 acres of wilderness and 250,000 acres of recreation areas. 

These new areas of protected public lands will provide Montanans with a wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities that define our quality of life and will contribute to an important sector of the local economy — tourism. The University of Montana’s Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research found that the state’s spectacular public lands — the mountains, forests and rivers — attract the most visitors to Montana and these nonresident visitors generate more than $4 billion in total economic impact annually, supporting nearly 50,000 stable Montana jobs.

Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act presents a unique opportunity for Montana to end decades of failed forest management and wilderness policy and divisive partisan gridlock over our public lands. In the best interest of all Montana, Rep. Rehberg must join Sen. Baucus in supporting Tester’s forest bill as an innovative, collaborative piece of Montanagrown legislation that will create jobs and improve the health of our public lands.

Chris Naumann has hunted, hiked, and biked the forests of southwest Montana for more than 15 years.