Tester: forest management will become a taxpayer problem

Forest Service chief tells Senator not enough being done in Montana forests

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester today questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell about the management of Montana’s forests.

“I don’t need to tell you how important the sawmills are as a part of the Forest Service,” Tester said. “We don’t want to drive these guys out of business, because then forest management will become a taxpayer problem.”

According to the Forest Service, in 2014, roughly 125 million board feet were harvested from 9,000 acres of national forest lands in Montana. There are 17 million acres of national forest in Montana.

During a subcommittee hearing on the Forest Service’s 2016 budget, Tester asked Tidwell if the current harvest numbers are enough to ensure Montana’s forests are properly managed.

“It’s not near enough of what we need to be doing to change the conditions on the landscape, to restore the resiliency of those forests and reduce the wildland fire threat to our communities,” Tidwell responded. “I’ve tried to be really clear about the challenge we have in front of us, and the need for us to increase the pace and scale of restoration of our nation’s forests.”

When asked what number would be appropriate, Tidwell responded that the Forest Service needs to be treating “at least four times” the current acreage of forests in Montana.

Tidwell also told Tester that while Montana is a leader in implementing the 2014 Farm Bill’s forestry provisions, land management must be implemented on a much larger scale.

Tester also endorsed the Administration’s plan to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has been instrumental in expanding outdoor recreation in Montana and preserving wildlife habitat. Tester recently sponsored a bipartisan bill to permanently reauthorize LWCF.

Tester supports the Forest Service’s proposal to fix the way the Agency funds wildfire suppression, treating catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters and allowing the Forest Service to make stronger investments in forest management. He is pushing a similar bipartisan legislative proposal to ensure the Forest Service has adequate funding to combat wildfires and manage our forests. Firefighting costs accounted for 16 percent of the Agency’s overall budget in Fiscal Year 1995, but by Fiscal Year 2014 that figure stood at 42 percent.