Tester’s bill deserves Rehberg’s support: Representative should hear Montanans’ backing on his listening tour across state

The MissouliannThe Helena Independent Record

by Editorial

This week, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., will hold a series of public listening sessions in five Montana towns concerning the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act proposed by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Tester could probably give him a good idea of what to expect. Not long ago, Tester was also touring the state to explain the legislation, which he introduced in July, and to gather constructive feedback and ideas. And at those meetings, he did indeed hear a number of useful suggestions, which he then incorporated into the act that is now before the Senate Energy Committee.

If Rehberg continues to follow in Tester’s footsteps, he will no doubt arrive at the same conclusions.

In announcing his intention to hold the listening sessions in communities that will be more directly impacted by any legislation, Rehberg stated, “Before Congress decides how this land should be managed, it’s important to give a voice to the folks who work, hunt, fish, hike, camp and enjoy this land.” That certainly is important. But it’s also important to remember that a whole lot of Montanans have already had a hand in shaping this particular piece of legislation.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is based on years of hard work by three collaborative efforts: the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership, the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project and the Three Rivers Challenge. Those groups sought to bring in an array of interests, from loggers and conservationists to representatives of local government and business, to come up with a plan that had something in it for everyone. The resulting plans were revised repeatedly before they wound up on Tester’s desk, thanks entirely to the tireless efforts of western Montanans.

So Rehberg need not worry about far-flung federal bureaucrats making decisions for Montanans – it doesn’t get any more local than the three collaborative projects that form the core of Tester’s bill, which attempts to balance the interests of all Montanans by designating more than 600,000 acres of new wilderness while also requiring logging on 100,000 acres over 10 years.

And nobody in Montana has been left out of the process. The legislation has been available for public comment and review for months now, and in fact, it received a Senate committee hearing in early December. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has signed on as a co-sponsor.

But Rehberg has not yet given his support, and in fact, has given some troubling indications that he may be leaning the other way. He has noted that the U.S. Agriculture undersecretary, during the hearing, expressed concern with the bill, specifically the logging mandates. Subsequently, Rehberg has suggested that the legislation may have flaws or that there may be “better ideas that have not been considered.” He has even, reportedly, floated the idea of writing his own wilderness bill.

Tester’s bill is not perfect. It does have flaws. But no single piece of legislation can hope to please everyone.

In the meantime, Montana has gone for decades without any new wilderness. The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act would remedy that, while also attempting to support western Montana’s flagging timber industry.

It would be a slap in the face to all those who have been working toward this goal for so long to tear down their good work and start over.

Rehberg’s listening sessions are a great opportunity to have honest, productive discussions about the bill and how it might be improved. All Montanans should hope that they do not become merely a politicized, roundabout way to kill good legislation.