Tester, Daines and Zinke to Forest Service: We need to see more

Montana delegation demands action in the forest

(Washington, D.C) – Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke are pushing the Forest Service for answers about how the agency plans to implement the forestry provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill.

In a letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, the entire Montana delegation noted that after the Farm Bill passed over a year ago the Department was quick to approve Montana’s recommended areas that deserve expedited treatment for timber harvest, but since then there has been little action.

“We need to see more,” the members wrote. “The health of the approximately 17 million acres of National Forest system lands in Montana is inextricably tied to our state’s heritage and well-being, from supporting the outdoor recreation economy, to providing jobs in the sawmills, to protecting our drinking water supplies.”

Congress included a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allows the Forest Service to expedite treatment projects, including timber harvest, in areas nominated by a state’s Governor. To be considered for treatment under the Farm Bill, the designated forests must exhibit declining health, a risk of substantially increased tree mortality or an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety. In April 2014, Governor Steve Bullock nominated nearly five million acres for restoration. Tidwell approved the Governor’s plan with minor modifications in May 2014.

Tester, Daines and Zinke are asking the Forest Service to provide a list of potential projects along with the acreage, type of project, location and timeline for the work to begin. They also want to know how many projects are in the pipeline in Montana, and how are these projects being integrated into the Forest Service’s existing planning process.

Additionally, the delegation expressed support for changing the way the Forest Service funds its wildfire suppression efforts. Instead of using the general Forest Service budget and borrowing from non-fire accounts, Tester, Daines and Zinke support legislation to provide separate budget authority to help fight the most expensive and catastrophic wildfires. This would treat wildfires just like other large-scale natural disasters.

You can read the delegation’s letter to Chief Tidwell HERE.