Senate panel hears wide-ranging support for Tester’s forest jobs bill
Witness invited by Committee Republicans calls bill ‘a heck of a deal’
(U.S. SENATE) – A key Senate panel today heard wide-ranging support for Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan Forest Jobs and Recreation Act–a bill that creates jobs, new recreation areas and new backcountry protections in Montana’s national forests.
Tester’s landmark compromise creates Montana jobs by requiring the logging and restoration of at least 100,000 acres of timber in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests and by supporting forest restoration projects on the Lolo National Forest. The popular bill also creates permanent recreation areas and designates wilderness in Montana’s prized backcountry.
“This bill sets aside entrenched positions and bitter feelings that have crippled Montana for decades,” Tester told his colleagues on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Montanans put down their fists and, with great humility, worked together to create something big for my state. It will put people to work in the woods. It will make our forests healthier and more resilient from fire. It will protect our finest hunting and fishing lands. Everyone gave a little, and will get a lot. It deserves a vote. It deserves to pass. And it deserves to be signed into law.”
Since first introducing the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act nearly two years ago, Tester has modified the bill based on public feedback he received from thousands of Montanans. He has always kept the latest version of his bill on his website, tester.senate.gov/forest.
- In a reversal from his testimony in December of 2009, Undersecretary Harris Sherman said the U.S. Forest Service is “very supportive of the concepts and the goals in this bill.”
“I want to initially thank Senator Tester for his outstanding leadership in preparing this legislation and bringing the parties together,” Sherman added. “Much progress has been made on this bill. The bill will bring important jobs to Montana. It will allow significant mechanical and restoration work to be done. And will bring new land into our national wilderness systems. The legislation also promotes landscape scale restoration, stewardship contracts, and is supportive of integrated resource restoration. And it fosters local collaboration. We have a few concerns with the bill which are largely technical which are set forth in my written testimony. We look forward to working with Senator Tester and the committee on language to address these issues.”
- Wally Congdon, a Dillon-area rancher representing the Montana Cattleman’s Association, was invited to speak by Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spoke out in strong support of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, calling it a “heck of a deal” 30 years in the making:
“And frankly, your staff and you did listen. You made the changes we requested, like save grazing,” Congdon said. “So it has been an open policy, an open thing. And what I tell a lot of those people who are complaining is very simply this: There is a ball game. If you're going to play, bring a team.”
Congdon proposed several minor changes to Tester’s bill. Tester later said many of Congdon’s proposals are “doable” and that he looks forward to analyzing them further.
- Tester agreed to drop the drop the southern half of Mt. Jefferson from wilderness designation in order to respond to the concern of Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho. Although the Mt. Jefferson is in Montana, the area is a popular destination for Idaho snowmobilers who would still be able to access the area under Tester’s latest bill.
Tester invited Sherm Anderson, a former Republican state senator and President of Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge, Mont., to testify during today’s hearing.
“We see this as a win-win for all Americans who believe in the wise use of our national forests,” Anderson said. “I thank Senator Tester for his undying support, and his effort–his willingness to give it all for the betterment of Americans.”
Tester’s testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee appears below.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
Hearing Testimony re: Forest Jobs and Recreation Act
May 25, 2011
PREPARED FOR DELIVERY.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am honored to be here today to discuss the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act again with the full scrutiny of the Congress.
I would like to welcome Mr. Anderson and Mr. Congdon to the Senate, as well as Brian Sybert, the director of the Montana Wilderness Association. Brian traveled here to stand beside one of his partners on this effort, Sherm Anderson. I’d also like to welcome Sherm’s wife and his business partner, Bonnie. Thank you all for making the journey.
I also want to thank Mr. Sherman for coming today to testify on behalf of the administration again. I don’t want to preempt his testimony, but I want to thank him and Secretary Vislack for their support of this jobs bill. I’d like to enter this letter from October 11, 2010 into the record affirming their support.
Above all, I would like to thank my friend Max Baucus for being here. Senator Baucus knows first-hand the long history of timber battles in Montana. He has seen it all, and I am glad to have him talk about his support of this bill today.
The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is an incredibly popular bill, getting more supporters by the day. Just in the last month, the Chamber of Commerce in Missoula and the Montana AFL-CIO signed on as supporters. This bill was brought to me by Montanans who are tired of fighting over forest management, recreation and wilderness designation. For decades, these folks—mill owners, loggers, conservationists and outdoorsmen—have fought one another. They fought, and no one ever won. In fact, everyone lost.
So, a few years ago, a few brave Montanans decided to sit at the same table. Anyone willing to negotiate was welcome. And working together, they literally and figuratively mapped their common ground. I am very, very proud to support their effort.
This is not a bill made by Democrats or Republicans. It is a bill made by Democrats and Republicans.
It is a product of three different collaborative efforts. One is from the Northwest corner of the state, in Yaak. One is from the Seeley District of the Lolo Forest. And one is from the Beaverhead Deerlodge Forest.
These groups brought me their ideas. I talked to a lot of Montanans to help shape those ideas. And, in the summer of 2009, I introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
I said then that the bill was in its beginning phase. That I wanted to hear from people about the bill, and incorporate their ideas.
I heard feedback from thousands of Montanans. I received thousands of letters, met for hours and hours with Forest Service staff, and worked hard with the members and staff of this committee. Secretary Vilsack was kind enough to visit Montana to discuss the bill. He toured our forests and held a crowded community meeting.
Mr. Chairman, when you add all this up, I can say that no bill from Montana has ever enjoyed the transparency of this effort. It hasn’t always been an easy process, but the bill before this committee today is stronger as a result of all that work. I am proud of the bill that we shaped by working together.
Let me quickly recap what this bill does: it will put people to work in the woods, creating jobs for the timber and restoration industries. It will make our beetle-killed forests healthier, lowering the risk of catastrophic wildfire. It will help protect our communities from catastrophic wildfires. It will improve trout and elk habitat. It will secure places for people — and our kids and grandkids — to enjoy the land they own.
The forestry and restoration components of the bill are pretty straightforward. They reflect hours and hours of thoughtful input that I have received since introducing the bill. The Forest Service will kick off one large watershed project per year, using authorities and processes outlined in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. The agency will work with a collaborative group to assess what’s needed – what culverts or roads need fixing, what weeds need to be treated, what trees need to be harvested. This will go on for fifteen years. Over those fifteen years, the Forest Service is required to mechanically treat 100,000 acres.
It is a goal that Secretary Vilsack says is, quote, “ambitious, but sustainable and achievable.”
Congress often tells the agency what it cannot do. This bill, which is really a pilot project, tells the agency what it must do. I know that the mandate in this bill has made some of my colleagues uncomfortable. But I can’t see why Congress wouldn’t want to give the agency the full backing of the American people to say: we want you to do good work. Go forth and do good work creating jobs and restoring our national forests. Because the status quo is not allowing that to happen.
This bill is a measure of our commitment to our rural communities, our workers, our forests, and the Forest Service itself.
I’d like to take a moment to touch on what this bill will not do. It will not take away grazing permits in wilderness areas. It does not impact existing water rights. My bill clearly incorporates regulations ensuring that ranchers can continue to operate their businesses in wilderness. Congress has been clear on this topic in the past, and my bill is clear on this. I not only listened to general concerns, I listened to specific concerns when considering ranching issues. For example, there is language in the bill that ensures ranchers who graze in the Snowcrests will continue to have adequate access to their off-river watering facilities. Some of those ranchers still don’t support this bill, and that’s okay. I put this language in because it’s the right thing to do.
This bill will not shut down motorized recreation. There are about 6,600 miles of roads and trails on the Beaverhead Deerlodge Forest. This bill closes fewer than 50 miles of them. Let me repeat that. Out of 6,600 miles of roads and trails, this bill closes less than one percent. Yet it opens up new recreation opportunities.
For the first time in Montana’s history, this bill creates permanent recreation areas, in places that have long been enjoyed by snowmobilers. Up in Lincoln County, for example, conservationists and the Troy and Libby snowmobiling clubs found their zone of agreement – which is reflected on the maps that accompany my bill. I’m proud of their work.
Let me for a moment touch again on what the bill does do.
I’m more interested in that. It creates jobs. It launches an important forest and watershed restoration program. It sets aside some lands for recreation. And, for the first time in 28 years, the bill protects some of Montana’s wildest backcountry areas as wilderness. We are blessed to have wild country in Montana with clean water and great habitat, and we should protect some of it. Not only for today, but for future generations.
Mr. Chairman, this bill sets aside entrenched positions and bitter feelings that have crippled Montana for decades. Montanans put down their fists and, with great humility, worked together to create something big for my state. It will put people to work in the woods. It will make our forests healthier and more resilient to fire. It will protect our finest hunting and fishing lands.
Everyone gave a little, and will get a lot. It deserves a vote. It deserves to pass. And it deserves to be signed into law.