Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tester to unveil new forest bill draft details Thursday

I just received word that Sen. Jon Tester will hold a conference call with reporters tomorrow morning to share details of a new draft of his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

It’s not yet clear whether a full version of this latest draft will be available tomorrow or not. His staff person said the updated draft has been submitted to the Office of Legislative Counsel for review. She assured me that once legislative counsel is done dotting Is and crossing Ts the bill will be available to the public.

As soon as the latest draft is available I’ll post it here.

Earlier this month a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee “discussion draft” made headlines when some of the key supporters of Tester’s original bill came out in opposition to the committee’s suggested changes. (view the two-part draft here and here)

The discussion draft removed a key provision that called for the mandated logging of 100,000 acres of timber on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. Members of the collaborative group that helped draft the original measure, including some of the environmental groups in the Beeverhead-Deerlodge Partnership, said they would not support a bill that does not contain logging mandates.

In a brief interview after my June 4 story ran in the Tribune, Tim Baker, legislative campaign director for the Montana Wilderness Association, said the committee’s draft was “inadequate.”

“We have to have a piece of legislation that has those mandates in there. Those are types of assurances our timber partners need and we are all committed to working together on this and sticking together on it,” Baker said. “If the final products doesn’t meet the needs of our timber partners, then we’re not supportive.”

Reporter Matthew Frank addressed that issue in more detail in last week’s Missoula Independent.

Be sure to check out Friday’s Tribune for a full story and the latest details on Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Check back here tomorrow for information about the press call and a copy of the latest draft, if available.

3 comments:

C.E. Abramson said...

"The Perfect is the enemy of The Good, The Better and Progress" - @be

Matthew Koehler said...

As it stands right now, it sure seems as if the ENR Committee's draft is far superior to Senator Tester's FJRA as originally introduced...so it will certainly be interesting to review the new FJRA draft coming from Senator Tester's office tomorrow.

It's unfortunate that Senator Tester proclaimed the ENR Committee's draft "Dead On Arrival." In my view, the ENR Committee's draft is a giant step in the right direction and certainly worthy of consideration. The fact of the matter is that the ENR Committee's draft would protect over 660,000 acres in Montana as Wilderness, which is one of the big goals we've heard touted by the collaborators.

However, the Committee's draft would not undermine Wilderness by allowing the military helicopters to land in the Highlands Wilderness or sheep ranchers to ride their ATV's in Wilderness, as Tester's original bill allowed.

How could these not be viewed as positive steps by anyone who loves and appreciates Wilderness and understands it's unique place on the landscape? Seems that by any objective measure, when it comes to Wilderness designation that the ENR Committee draft is superior to Tester's FJRA. So I'd encourage the public to compare the positive wilderness protection steps taken in the ENR Committee's draft with what Senator Tester releases to the media tomorrow.

The ENR Committee's draft would also establish a "National Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative" that would "preserve and create local jobs in rural communities...to sustain the local logging and restoration infrastructure and community capacity...to promote cooperation and collaboration...to restore or improve the ecological function of priority watersheds...to carry out collaborative projects to restore watersheds and reduce the risk of wildfires to communities." Much of this work would be carried out through stewardship contracting.

Again, aren't these the types of goals and restoration and fuel reduction projects to create local jobs that supporters of Tester's bill have touted? If so, why would the ENR Committee's draft be "DOA?"

If Tester's bill was never about logging anyway (as most of the supporters defensively claimed), then what does it matter if the Committee's draft drops the controversial logging mandates on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests?

After all, the head of the US Forest Service said about the logging mandates at the Senate hearing:

"The levels of mechanical treatment that are called for in S1470 are likely unachievable and perhaps unsustainable...If the Committee decides to go forward with a bill, we would urge you to first, alter or remove the highly specific timber supply requirements, which in our view are not reasonable or achievable."

And even The Wilderness Society, a supporter of Tester's bill, questioned the mandated logging in their official Senate testimony:

"We oppose Congressionally mandated treatment levels in the bill because they, a) neglect the root causes of the problems this bill is intended to address, b) set an adverse national precedent, c) create unreasonably high expectations, d) fail to provide the agency the resources it needs to do its job, and e) most important, we do not believe this approach will work on the ground....Based on consultation with NEPA experts, we do have concerns that some of the specific language in this section of S. 1470 could effectively undermine the application of NEPA and its implementing regulations."

Matthew Koehler said...

Or how about the fact that the Committee draft drops Senator Tester's arbitrary 12-month timeline for environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act? Which, I should mention, is the same type of short-cutting of environmental review and analysis done to approve of BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.

After all, even the head of the Forest Service opposed Senator Tester's NEPA timeline during the hearing:

"We'd like to urge you to amend the National Environmental Policy Act related provisions, which in our view are flawed and are legally vulnerable."

And don't forget that the ENR Committee draft dropped all the budgetary issues, which the actual language of Tester's original FJRA raised. Remember this statement from the head of the Forest Service during the hearing?

"We would urge you to consider the budgetary implications to meet the bill's requirements. If we were to go forward with S1470 it would require far greater resources to do that and it will require us to draw these monies from forests within Region One or from other Regions....My concern [with FJRA] is that there will be somewhat of a balkanization that occurs between the different Forest Service regions in the country. Those [National Forests] who are first in may get funded and those who come later may find there are less funds available. There will be certain 'haves' and 'have nots' that result from this process. Then in someways there is no longer a national review, an effort to sift out what priorities ought to exist across the country."

Let's hope that Senator Tester's new draft deals with these serious financial and balkanization concerns brought up by the head of the agency and many conservation groups from Montana and the country.

The Committee's new draft also adds language requiring that any project carried out under the bill must maintain old growth forests and retain large trees, while focus any hazardous fuel reduction efforts on small diameter trees. Again, Senator Tester's original bill didn't do this, so the public should compare the ENR Draft with Sen Tester's new version when he makes it available.

The bottom line here is that, while not perfect, the revisions in the ENR Committee's draft are all steps in the right direction and therefore certainly worthy of consideration by Senator Tester and the collaborators, especially if the goal is passing a bill to protect a little Wilderness in Montana and get some watershed restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished. Let's hope Senator Tester and the collaborators gave the ENR Committee's discussion draft significantly more consideration than just proclaiming it "Dead On Arrival." I guess we'll just have to wait and see what they came up with.

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