Tester, Walsh announce approval of Bullock proposal to restore forest health

Through Farm Bill, USDA designates millions of acres in Montana for priority forest restoration projects that will strengthen public lands and help create jobs

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh are praising federal approval of Governor Steve Bullock’s forest restoration proposal for federal lands across Montana. Bullock nominated landscapes across Montana for priority forest restoration last month.

In an effort to move the ball forward to address the mountain pine beetle epidemic in Montana, the 2014 Farm Bill authorizes governors to nominate federal lands for restoration that are impacted by insect or disease infestation. These restoration efforts are subject to approval by the Secretary of Agriculture and only move forward in places with full public involvement. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today approved Governor Bullock’s plan, designating 4.95 million acres for priority restoration. These designations will provide the Forest Service and local stakeholders additional tools and flexibility to plan and complete restoration treatments in these areas.

“This year’s Farm Bill continues to benefit Montana, with today’s announcement ensuring that more folks get back to work in the woods,” Tester said. “Montana’s forests are key to strengthening our economy, and I’ll keep working with Montanans on the ground to create jobs while responsibly managing our natural resources.”

“Montana’s public lands are the driver of local economies across our state, and we must do a better job of restoring forest health and improving habitats,” said Walsh, the only Montana representative on the Agriculture Committee with oversight of the Farm Bill. “Today’s announcement is the product of honest collaboration and will create good-paying jobs as we protect and improve our forests here in Montana.”

“I am pleased that the secretary recognized what we know on the ground — the status quo on federal lands isn’t working, and we need to improve the health of our forests and our timber industry,” Bullock said. “I look forward to working with all interested parties as we move forward.”

Bullock collaborated with a diverse group of conservation leaders and industry to strike a compromise identifying the specific landscapes nominated for restoration. The plan has the support of the Blackfoot Challenge, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Kootenai Forest Stakeholders, Montana Logging Association, Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Wood Products Association, United States Forest Service, Wilderness Society, and the Wildlife Federation.

In April, Walsh sent a letter to Vilsack supporting the project and held a listening session in Missoula, where a diverse group of people representing conservation groups and the logging industry overwhelmingly supported the plan.

At a May hearing, Tester pushed Vilsack to approve Montana’s proposal, saying that timber harvest creates good-paying jobs and reduces the risk of wildfire.

Over the next 15 years, Montana is at risk of losing more than 21 percent of its forested lands to insects and disease. The forest management plan approved today will protect and improve those vulnerable areas, as well as shore up municipal water supplies, increase recreational opportunities, and provide much-needed supply to Montana’s timber mills.