Tester forest bill a good deal for Montanans

The Billings Gazette

by Shane Colton

Montana has long been famous for its blue-ribbon trout streams, premier hunting and access opportunities for the public. For most Montana families, hunting and fishing on public lands and waterways is an important part of their outdoor heritage.

Our way of life here is unique, and people from around the world come to experience what we enjoy in our backyards.

But we’re not immune to the impacts of growth and development that can pose threats to our prized fish and game habitat. And there are those who make their living in the woods or in sawmills who will be quick to tell you about the stagnant management that has plagued our forests and agencies for decades.

Because of conflicts among various user groups, forest management has been at a virtual standstill for years. Our forests become more and more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire each year. Hunters and anglers looking for permanent protection in some of their favorite hunting and fishing spots have been left disappointed. Meanwhile, mills have closed and jobs have been lost due to lack of timber harvests on public lands.

What needs to be done

Montanans who recreate on and make their living from our public lands know best what needs to be done. That’s why Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a Montana-made solution, should get the support of Congress. Montanans of all kinds — from hunters and anglers to loggers and conservationists to ATV users and mountain bikers — helped create this bill. With such a diverse group working together, it’s no wonder that 7 in 10 people throughout the state support the bill.

We know a good deal when we see one. In the years to come, it will be fascinating to reflect on how hunters, anglers and conservationists helped save the timber industry, and how the industry helped to permanently protect some of Montana’s prized backcountry fish and game habitat.

As a hunter, angler, and a Fish, Wildlife and Parks commissioner, one of my top priorities is to ensure future generations of Montanans will have access to the same outdoor opportunities that I’ve had my whole life. Additionally, the stewardship component of this bill is very important for the future of fish and wildlife habitat.

Creating jobs

Some of the funds generated from timber harvest will be put into forest restoration. Stewardship projects could include improving fish passage so native trout can navigate to their spawning grounds and will be able to thrive far into the future. These restoration projects—along with community-designed timber projects—will create more jobs for Montanans and give the timber industry a much-needed boost.

Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act gives us the opportunity to take control of what happens to our public lands. Tester shares an important Montana value with most of us: keeping public lands in public hands. This bill brings Montanans together and lets us determine our own future.

As an outdoorsman deeply committed both personally and professionally to our public lands, I am proud to support the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act and what it will do for Montana jobs, land management, and fish and wildlife habitat.

Shane Colton of Billings is chairman of the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission