Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tester slips forest initiative into massive Senate spending bill

It’s official.

Sen. Jon Tester got his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, now entitled “Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative” (see page 893), inserted into the $1.1 trillion Senate omnibus spending bill.

The bill is almost certain to pass.

I reported on Tester’s efforts to make this happen last Friday. (I was surprised that I appeared to be the only journalist in the state who thought it was newsworthy. As far as I know no other news outlet reported that Tester was working to get this landmark piece of legislation passed as part of a massive “must-pass” spending bill).

As I reported, opponents of the measure called Tester’s attempt to get the bill inserted into the massive spending package “underhanded.”

Supporters of the bill have a different view.

Tom France, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, maintains that “most of the timber industry and most of the conservation community” support Tester’s approach to getting the bill passed by any means necessary:

“What some call underhanded tactics, others would call good and effective legislating by an elected politician doing his job,” France wrote in an e-mail to me Monday.

Critics on both the right and the left are miffed that a bill that dictates how many of our public lands will be managed into the future is set to pass despite not ever receiving a committee vote.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer, after hearing testimony on the bill the previous December, developed a "discussion draft" version of Tester's bill that removed one of the most controversial provisions of the bill: the mandated logging of 100,000 acres of timber on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. But  Tester, as well as officials for the timber companies and conservation groups who crafted the FJRA, said they would not support a bill that did not have the mandates.

So the bill sat in committee for months where it appeared to be dead. It never got a hearing in the House. It never got another hearing in the Senate. It never got a markup.

Yet now it has been revived and appears poised to pass.

Our Washington, D.C. correspondent Ledge King is tracking this development. Read tomorrow’s Great Falls Tribune for more details on FJRA and other details about the 1924-page Senate omnibus bill. As you may have noticed, we’ve begun truncating some of our stories. For the most complete coverage, please subscribe to the Tribune or the Tribune e-edition.

UPDATE: As I was writing this post Tester’s office sent this memo to reporters. Here’s Tester’s take on the “Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative.” I’m sure there are lots of different views on this bill and Tester’s approach to getting it passed. Please feel free to discuss in the comments.

MEMO

TO: Interested News Reporters

FROM: Aaron Murphy, the Office of Senator Jon Tester

RE: Forest Jobs and Recreation Act

December 14, 2010

The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2010 includes Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.  The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in the coming days. Until the law passes, nothing is final.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is “Title VII – Montana Forests” in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. (page 893, online HERE). The most recent language (as it appears in the Omnibus Appropriations bill) is—and has been—online at tester.senate.gov/forest.  The maps are also online—and have been since they were finalized.

An October 2010 letter from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing support for Sen. Tester’s bill is online HERE.

The final version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is similar to the version introduced by Sen. Tester in July of 2009.  Here is a summary:

What the final version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act does:

· CREATES JOBS by mandating 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest over 15 years. (The original version of The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act called for this 100,000 acres of treatment over 10 years.)

· Mandates the U.S. Forest Service to implement large watershed and forest restoration projects each year over 15 years, prioritizing projects in the wildland-urban interface (forested areas near communities) and watersheds with high road density on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest.

· Designates 369,501 acres of recreation areas.

· Designates 666,260 acres of wilderness.  This is 2,800 acres less than the original version of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

How the final version of FJRA differs from the version originally introduced by Sen. Tester in July of 2009.

Based on input from thousands of Montanans, the Forest Service, and the Energy and Natural Resource committee, Senator Tester made the following changes:

Forest and Restoration Changes

  • Change:  Extended the timeframe of the forestry and restoration components from 10 years to 15 years.

Reason: The Forest Service requested this change.

  • Change:  Allow the forest and restoration work to be conducted on Forest Service lands adjacent to the Three Rivers District, as well as within the district.

Reason:  The Forest Service and constituents in Lincoln County requested this change, to give the Forest Service more room to work around grizzly bear habitat.

  • Change:  The final bill expands the authority of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HRFA), to all work performed under this bill. Key provisions are: 

o Streamlines documents needed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to a no action alternative, a preferred alternative, and a second alternative, if it is brought forward by a collaborative group. This saves money and time, reducing administrative costs.

o HFRA uses the objections process instead of the appeals process. This means citizens who with concerns about the projects cast their objections before the Forest Service releases its decision, so those objections can be addressed in the final decision document, likely reducing litigation.

o HFRA directs the courts to consider a balance of harms—that is, to determine whether not doing work is potentially more harmful than doing the work--when assessing whether to let projects move forward.

o Temporary stays or injunctions that may be issued by a court are only 60 days.

Reason:  The Forest Service worked with Senator Tester to find the most appropriate environmental review process for these large watershed restoration projects. Many Montanans asked Sen. Tester to include balance of harms and tightened timelines for court injunctions.

  • Change:  If citizens formally object to the project, a mediator may be used to help resolve the issues.

Reason:  The Three Rivers Challenge in Lincoln County requested this, to avoid using the court system to resolve issues.

Changes to Wilderness and Recreation

  • Change:  Sen. Tester dropped McAttee Basin from the wilderness additions this bill makes to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. McAttee is in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest, not far from Big Sky.

Reason:  Many snowmobilers in and around Gallatin County asked for this change.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester dropped the Lost Cabin wilderness, and instead designated the Tobacco Roots Recreation Management Area.

Reason:  The Montana Mountain Bike Alliance requested this change; this area is very popular for mountain bikers.

  • Change:  The Highlands Wilderness decreased from approximately 20,000 acres to 15,000 acres. Sen. Tester designated the remaining 5,000 acres as a Special Management Area that has many of the protections of wilderness but allows for occasional helicopter landings to help train our nation’s military personnel in wilderness survival. It also enables the City of Butte to maintain the water pipeline that crosses the area.

Reason:  This change was requested by wilderness advocates.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester adjusted boundaries in the West Big Hole to not inadvertently cut off loop roads there.

Reason:  Big Hole valley residents requested this change.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester removed two cherry stems – which is an exclusion of a trail from wilderness, to allow uses otherwise not permitted in wilderness areas – in the Lee Metcalf at Cowboys Heaven and in the East Pioneers.

Reason:  Dozens of Montanans requested these changes.

  • Change:  Sen. Tester added 6,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness – the East Fork of Blacktail, which is adjacent to the Snowcrest wilderness in the bill.

Reason:  The BLM requested this because it is adjacent to the Snowcrest Wilderness and a state wildlife management area.

  • Change:  Language has been added to allow access to water infrastructure for irrigators in all of the wilderness areas designated by this bill.

Reason: This was added at the request of Montana irrigators.

The final version of FJRA also maintains these original provisions

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest:

· Permanently creates areas that the Forest Service must manage for recreation, including motorized recreation.

· Solves the long-standing Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area debate by designating some BLM Wilderness Study Areas and releasing others from wilderness consideration, and management as if they were wilderness.

· Allows ranchers’ access to water infrastructure (such as stock tanks and pipelines) in the Snowcrest Wilderness Area.

· Allows continued sheep trailing across the Snowcrest Wilderness Area.

Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest:

· Permanently creates Three Rivers Special Management Area, which encompasses separate motorized and non-motorized recreation areas.

· Directs the Forest Service to conduct a study of potential ATV routes.

· Designates 30,000 acres of wilderness at Roderick Mountain.

Seeley Lake District of the Lolo National Forest:

· Creates an area for snowmobiling use until the next revision of the Lolo Forest Plan.

· Designates approximately 87,000 acres of wilderness in addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness.

All three areas

· Authorizes use of federal funds for biomass facilities that process biomass material harvested in Montana.

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15 comments:

Aaron Flint said...

Nice work- yeah, I think you and those of us in radio were the only ones who had the story last week. I wonder though, this spending bill has grown so large and the more controversial legislation they add- will it be enough to lead a Senate revolt to block it altogether?

problembear said...

corruption.... it's what's for dinner now in the us of a.

lowest common denominator reasoning applies here.

problembear said...

the supreme court will be visiting the mandated logging language in this bill. that much is certain.

Anonymous said...

And Tester threw mud at Conrad Burns for earmarks! This is the biggest low down trick I a Montana Senator has ever pulled. He should move to California or New York to play politics.
The whole *dam bill is a boondoggle on the nation.

Capt Black Eagle said...

Tester..Lying since before he was elected. Nice to see that "doing his job" means subverting the system

John Q. Murray said...

First reaction: The Quincy Library Group lives! When local residents come together and find common ground, there actually *is* hope for results from all their hard work and unpaid hours of participation. I was starting to doubt after watching/covering a series of collaborative groups over the last 10 years. Passage will give a huge boost to that process. This is really quite an amazing achievement for a freshman senator.

Anonymous said...

20,000 pork earmarks, S1470 violates several federal laws and our U.S. Constitution but then the Senator never was about following the law or being about open government and transparency. To him its all about paying back his out of state contributors to his election. Montana be damned and please pass the pork.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Rehberg; wasn't Tester paying attention to the Nov. election? No More Spending until we have a budget and get out of the hole!

Anonymous said...

Even though i would have went along with this as a seperate bill i do not go along with it now just because of the way it is being presented. Looks like another Senator should be run outta town on a rail.

Anonymous said...

I will not vote for anyone who doesn't make balancing the budget and paying off the national debt within 50 years, without raising taxes, their number one priority.

My wife and I currently pay 54% in taxes without considering the hidden ones on gas, batteries and the like. I am retired on a fixed income that isn't quite enough to pay the taxes on my wife's salary. My daughter, age 10, will end up paying over 80% in taxes, by the time she is 21, unless something is done to stop our governments irresponsible over spending.

I am not complaining about my lot in life. We are not starving and pay our bills. I think the government takes to much in taxes and worry that future tax levels will destroy any chance our children have, no matter how hard they work, of even matching our level of success.

Jerry G said...

Sounds like he listened to a lot of Montanans. I did not vote for Tester, but it seems to me that he is trying to get some common sense into the system.

The big problem is the Far East and Far West in this country, (and congress) that feel that Montana should be a perpetual wilderness for wolves and bears.

I like the bill. It would be nice if the system was set up so that NY, CA, etc. would not have veto power over our backyard. It would be nice if we had 300 wolves in Yellowstone as promised rather than thousands roaming the countryside. But it is not so.

I wish that all bills contained only items pertinatent to the overall bill. It is never so.

I think the system is seriously broke. I think we have strayed so far from the Consitution, the founding fathers would not recognise us.

All said this bill mandates recreational use, logging, etc. This is what my home is all about.

Jerry Gregoire

Anonymous said...

Multiply Testers Bill times thousands of others like it. Each congressman trying to grab cash and power for votes from citizens who have no idea about the "big picture". Is everyone so short sighted? Can't they see the desperate fiscal situation we are in? Fourteen trillion in debt, borrowing 40 cents of every dollar, three trillion dollar budgets, no problem…let’s spend billions on our forest. If the congress does not increase the spending limit, government will have to shut down by Saturday!
If your own family finances were reaching insolvency would you add more debt onto your credit cards (issued by China)?
I really feel for some of those who made comments here, especially those who work hard and pay taxes only to find little cash left to pay ever higher costs and more small add on taxes. What are folks going to do when a Value added tax comes along?
I talk about the hard workers and tax payers here because it's time we combat the class warfare soldiers who defend the 51% of all American families who pay NO taxes, then get special payments and subsidies from the Government (tax payers). Isn't it interesting that during all the debates over the tax bill, you never hear about the dollar amount tax payers pay, the pundits just talk about rates. 38% sounds pretty good, but what if you and your wife each earn $80k. That's going to be $61k in federal tax after the government kills all the deductions for the "evil" rich. Now, the liberals are going to get on my case and say; "Wow, look how rich those folks are, why can't live off $8,250 a month?". Well, hang on, those folks also have to pay property tax, state tax, gas taxes and the worst tax of all; Inflation. While you are working hard and paying taxes, our government has been blowing up our economy for decades, which has killed the value of the very dollar we work so hard to earn. Gas in 1977 was 65 cents a gallon! Remember, taxes are not indexed to inflation so your earnings in real terms go down along with the value of the assets the government allows you to amass while you are alive. Then you die and the government comes in and confiscates up to half of what you own. Your house and land have NOT appreciated when adjusted for inflation and the cost of having maintained it. We are all getting screwed every day by our own government which is engaged in thousands of projects, few of which are even constitutional.
If you want to know how all this is going to end, all you have to do is read the WSJ or tune in FOX and watch the riots in Europe and the destruction of their currency and economy. We are not far behind.
The Congress has only a 16% approval rating and I doubt this will change even if a new crowd takes over. The problems, "pork" and "ear marks" are going to continue and we will continue adding to the national debt. When interest rates head back up, the government will have to allocate every cent of tax revenue to just service the debt in order to maintain its credit worthy status, so they can borrow more at low rates. Once the credit markets get nervous and debt ratings get shaky interest on the debt will skyrocket. This is already happening in Europe.
In my opinion, guys like Bush, Tester and Baucus will never disappear from Washington. Things are going to get a lot worse; taxes will have to go way up but eventually the economy will become so fragile that there will be no way to pay for the next deficit, crisis or war (Korea?).
We will all be working in the forest soon... as government employees.
We are all serfs now.
GD
Montana

Jack Wayne Chappell said...

From: Jack Wayne Chappell
Twin Falls, Idaho

On his way out the door, Bill Clinton sign over 51 million acres of our national parks to the U.N. Biosphere program. What is to stop any President from doing the same with our Wilderness areas? Absolutely nothing that I know of. We need a Sovereign Lands Act.

Anonymous said...

Do our elected representatives EVER look back at what was previously signed into law in order to see how things are working out?

Where is the reality check moment?

You name the program and it is hugely over budget and not working out. Here are a few examples: Social Security (Another definition for Ponzi scheme), Medicare and Medicaid, Agricultural subsidies,Career Development Assistance,Child Care/Child,Support,Counsel,Counseling,
Disability assistance,Disaster Relief,Education/Training,Energy Assistance
Food/Nutrition, Grants/Scholarships/Fellowships, Health care,Housing Insurance
Living Assistance, Loan/Loan Repayment,Tax Assistance. This is just a fraction of the governments bankrupt "cradle to grave" involvement in our lives.

Now add in Obama Care to an already insolvent government and you can see why the experts are predicting that out national debt will reach 20 trillion dollars in five years, with interest on that debt reaching nearly one trillion dollars a year.

Our elected officials are totally delusional to think that they can continue to govern and spend as usual. Their ego and intellectual deficits are truly without parallel...except when you read about the decline of the Roman Empire.

I pray that Montana secedes from the Union before it's too late.

GD
Montana

Anonymous said...

as a disabled Vet on a fixed income i can not believe our Montana Senator refuses to lower taxes on an already poor state. it did not take Tester long to find the money and out side interst people who only want to rape Montana of its resources. i would rather see bills that deal with the handi cap access to inable them to hunt and fish. people who can not walk long distances but could use an ATV in order to get to a location on public land. these bills would not cost big money. maybe a bill to help challanged adults and children to have access to public land. lets work on saving family ranches, helping the people of Montana and reduce taxes. i know our Montana ranches would be happy to help the disabled. our last election took away the rights of guides to pre buy lic. for out of state hunters, they wanted to tie up private and public land inorder to cater to big money. as i see it enough is enough! take care of Montan first.

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