Tester bill is best forest solution

The Montana Standard

by Terry SchultznOpinion

In reference to their guest opinion printed on the editorial page of the Thursday, Oct. 15, Montana Standard, I believe Beaverhead County commissioners Mike McGinley, Tom Rice, and Garth Haugland were right to be concerned how the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act might affect their constituents. The Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners is also mindful of our constituents and their concerns. While those concerns are not the same, they are similar.

Programs like Secure Rural Schools provide much-needed federal funding for schools and roads. The program is meant to help sustain education and transportation funding in counties hardest hit by the slump in the timber industry.

I am sure that it is of some comfort to our colleagues in Beaverhead County that Sen. Jon Tester has been a leader in Congress to keep this program fully funded and has been successful in renewing this funding for this year. While addressing some of the effects of the downturn in the timber industry, this program does not address the cause of the industry woes.

Many diverse groups testified before the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners, each firmly entrenched in their own self interests. In addition, the council was faced with the looming problems of beetle-killed trees and their effects on our reservoir, the prospects of disastrous fires, and the loss to the local economy of responsible harvest of natural resources. Add to this the management goals of the Forest Service and you had all the elements for massive gridlock with little hope of relief for any of the parties.

Tester's bill will ease this gridlock and will allow the needs of all parties to be addressed. By working with timber industry, recreation, hunting and fishing, and conservation groups, as well as local governments, Tester has crafted a bill designed to make our forests work to the interests of all Montanans.

By requiring that at least 70,000 acres be opened up to the timber industry, rejuvenation of the timber industry will follow, with an economic boost for the counties. Fire dangers will be reduced. Loggers salvaging the trees while they still have some value will remove the blight of beetle-killed trees. Some lands originally designated to be wilderness by the Forest Service would be opened to recreational use. Habitats will be preserved for wildlife ensuring good hunting and fishing opportunities now and in the future.

This bill is not perfect. Everyone did not get everything they wanted. It was impossible to do so. But, by working with diverse groups, listening to citizen concerns, with an eye on federal guidelines, and facing the reality of compromise, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act offers the best possible solution to a myriad of problems. Tester should be applauded for his efforts on behalf of all Montanans.

Terry L. Schultz represents District 4 on the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners in Butte.