Forest bill a win-win situation

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Editorial

Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act” may not have the word “wilderness” in its title, but it’s proving to be just as much of a lightning rod as any that have included that word in the past.

Tester’s bill is the result of an unprecedented compromise crafted by a coalition of industry and environmental interests. It would set aside some 677,000 acres of land as wilderness – mostly in Southwest Montana – while mandating logging on some 7,000 acres of Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest land per year for the next 10 years.

One of the wilderness set-asides, a 4,465-acre chunk that sits in Montana but is heavily used by snowmobilers coming from the Idaho side of the mountain, is drawing opposition from Idahoans who use the area or are dependent on tourists who come to Idaho to use the area.

Opposition to the entire bill is coming from some environmental groups who decry the bill’s timbercutting requirements. And representatives of the Obama administration are concerned that cutting timber on a scale required by the bill will cost the Forest Service millions in administrative costs.

Anyone who has a stake in this historic agreement should be heard in the Senate hearings that began last week. And the bill could need some tweaking to make it better. But the critics must not be allowed to scuttle this effort.

Tester’s bill offers the first chance in decades to resolve the fate of a substantial portion of Montana’s roadless lands. That’s important given the dwindling amounts of unroaded land left in the United States. It’s also important because putting timber-cutting requirements into law could forestall much of the costly litigation that ties up Forest Service timber sales the forest products industry needs to keep Montanans working.

The bill has a chance for passage because significant players on both sides of the issue have worked out the details and buy into the plan. And, if it succeeds, it could serve as a template for resolving the fate of other roadless lands in Montana and other states, while providing some badly needed timber for the industry.

Congress must work on the details, as it always does, but, in the end, this bill deserves passage and the president’s signature.