Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tester unveils new draft of forest jobs bill

Today Sen. Jon Tester unveiled the latest draft version of his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

You can download a copy of Tester's latest draft here.

In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Tester said his new discussion draft is the next step in a “long and complicated process.”

(Click the play button on the player below to hear the entire conference call. Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy introduces the conference call.)

The bill comes in response to a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee discussion draft that surfaced earlier this month. You can read the text of the committee’s draft here and here.

As originally proposed, Tester’s forest measure would add 660,000 acres of new wilderness in Montana while mandating logging on 100,000 acres on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests.

The ENRC draft, which was circulated among members of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership collaborate group approximately three weeks ago, removed those mandates.

The committee draft also stripped controversial language from the original bill that allowed military helicopter landings and the use of motorized vehicles for livestock and wildlife management within wilderness boundaries.

Tester said his latest draft would result in the “same outcome” laid out in his original proposal while including some of the ideas contained in the committee’s draft.

“It, too, is a discussion draft,” Tester acknowledged Thursday in a telephone call with reporters. “It very likely will not be the final version that the committee votes on.”

Tester said his staff is in daily negotiations with the committee staff in an attempt to hammer out a bill that can reach a vote before Congress wraps up work later this year.

However, Tester warned that if the final committee bill does not contain mandated logging levels aimed at sustaining the state’s dwindling wood products industry then it will be “dead on arrival.”

“I have said from the beginning that I will only support a bill that contains the four carefully balanced provisions that have resulted from years of folks working together, those being timber, wilderness, recreation and restoration,” Tester said. “The committee’s bill stripped out the timber and restoration certainties in my bill. All four components are critically important to this bill.”

Tester acknowledged that the Forest Service was critical of the mandated logging quotas contained in the original proposal.

Harris Sherman, Under Secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified at a committee hearing in December that the mandated logging levels outlined in Tester’s bill “are likely unachievable and perhaps unsustainable.”

Tester said Thursday that the agency now supports the bill.

“We were able to work with the Forest Service and get them on board,” Tester said. “They support this bill.” (Tester quote begins at 11:37 in the recording above).

However, Joe Walsh, a spokesman in the Forest Service’s Washington, D.C. office declined to comment on the agency’s position on Tester’s latest proposal.

“We have not received a copy of the senator’s latest draft, but we will review it when we get a copy,” Walsh said. “Right now this is a work in progress between the senator and the committee.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said the agency is “fine with” the “sustainability of the mechanical treatment levels prescribed by the bill.”

“It’s our understanding that the Forest Service believes the work Jon is trying to achieve is ecologically sustainable (through mechanical treatment),” Murphy wrote.

Tester said members of the collaborative group that helped draft the original bill—which includes a handful of wilderness, conservation and timber groups—support his proposed changes to the measure.

“They’re enthusiastic,” Tester said. “They have the same information that you have in front of you and they’re fired up about it. They like it.”

But some environmental and conservation groups, many of whom have been critical of Tester’s bill from the start, remained miffed by his latest proposal.

“If the goal is protecting some wilderness in Montana and getting some restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished, then the Energy and Natural Resource Committee's draft, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction and superior to both Senator Tester's original bill and his new proposal,” said Matthew Koehler of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign.

Koehler also testified at the energy and committee’s December 17 hearing.

“As we move forward, let's hope Senator Tester and the collaborators give the committee's draft significantly more consideration than just proclaiming it dead on arrival,” Koehler added.

George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, said Tester’s latest proposal attempts to re-write longstanding forest management policy, including the Wilderness Act, by allowing previously banned activities in federally designated wilderness areas.

“I would hope that the senator would honor the Wilderness Act and not even try to put that language back in that bill,” Nickas said.

Like Koehler, Nickas said if the bill is to have a chance of passing, then the committee draft would be better starting point for negotiations.

“I think it’s too bad if Sen. Tester is drawing a line in the sand by saying, ‘mandated logging or nothing.’ I think by doing that he’s saying ‘nothing.’” Nickas said. “Mandated logging is not where a lot of folks in the conservation community, nor do I think a lot of members of Congress, are willing to go.”

For his part, Tester said he’s committed to sticking to the goals of the partnership that helped create the forest jobs bill.

“I can tell you I’ve got plenty of fight left in me and so do thousands of Montanans who support this bill, but more importantly support the ideas and principles that this bill contains,” Tester said.


Anonymous said...

What public land managers and public land advocates have failed to understand for so many years is that public land is about partnership. Senator Tester gets it. He doesn't take the myopic view that our forests are just about wilderness, or timber harvest, or recreation. He is working hard to reward partnerships that take a more integrated view of the forest - a forest where you can get a paycheck, ride your snowmobile, and hunt world class elk across vast tracks of roadless land.

Anonymous said...

An already great bill - one that Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack claimed should be "replicated across the country" - just got better. Sen. Tester has demonstrated his thoughtful leadership once more by incorporating the best suggestions he's heard from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Montana conservation organizations, and a host of other stakeholders in this state. Most importantly, he released a made-in-Montana draft - not one written by an inside-the-beltway staffer in the dark halls of a DC Senate office building. This bill is better than it was before, and it keeps its promise to the hard working Montanans who put it together.

The FJRA might not protect such iconic landscapes as the Rocky Mountain Front, but it protects nearly 1,000,000 (that's right - one million) acres of some of our state's most spectacular undiscovered roadless lands in Wilderness and special management areas. Home to some of Montana's best elk habitat, blue-ribbon trout streams, and critcal east-west linkages between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the rest of the Northern Rockies, the FJRA establishes new protected areas and expands old ones that will prove invaluable in the face of climate change and continued pressure from development.

And then there's the scenery. The Italian Peaks, the Beaverheads, the East Pioneers, Roderick Mountain...all of these places, to anyone who has visited them, knows that their beauty rivals that of any of Montana's better-known landscapes. From unique high elevation grasslands in the Snowcrest Range to rich low-elevation forests in the Sapphires, the FJRA creates badly-needed protected areas and brings down the "apron" on previously established Wildernesses like the Bob and the Missions.

As for treatment, the FJRA sustains good jobs in the woods and prioritizes work on areas of high road density, in the wildland-urban interface, where "fish and wildlife habitat have been impaired", and where local collaborative groups recommend work should be done.

This bill represents a new way of doing business in Washington, DC, and around the nation. It's challenging each and every one of us, and our public land managers, to think critically about how we can find new ways to support our rural communities, restore forest health, and protect our best remaining places to hike, hunt and fish.

I thank Sen. Tester for supporting the years of grassroots collaborative work that went into the details of this legislation, and to honoring the agreements that those groups made. In the end, we will have Sen. Tester to thank for championing our environment and our economy in ways that no other Montana legislator has dared, in years.

paul edwards said...

Oh, those poor, simple, deluded public land managers and advocates... All those decades of not getting it, as Senator Tester and the enlightened anonymous does.

It's about partnerships, says he! Public land partnerships among those who would get a paycheck, ride a snowmobile, or hunt world class elk, you see? No wilderness advocates need apply.

Sounds curiously like a pitch from the Montana Multiple-Use Association, doesn't it? Good old MMA..? No mention of the value of legislated wilderness, if it has any in the estimation of anaonymous. No deluded public land advocate, he.

No, sir. He's for paychecks, snowmobiles and hunting everywhere, which he wants you to do on vast "tracks" of roadless land, whatever he thinks they are. Probably tracts. But then we public land advocates have never understood anything.

Matthew Koehler said...

FYI: The two "anonymous" comments above are actually from two people who work with Montana Wilderness Association - Gabe Furshong and Zack Porter. Verify this fact for yourself right here:

To be honest, these young guys lack the experience and knowledge base to be telling the public the policy implications of Tester's bill or the ENR Committee's draft. They simply have little real world experience with forest policy issues and now are being paid by MWA to advocate a position they really know very little about. Just thought we should throw that out on the table.

If the goal is protecting some Wilderness in Montana and getting some restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished, the ENR Committee's draft, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction and superior to both Senator Tester's original bill and his new proposal. As we move forward, let's hope Senator Tester and the collaborators give the ENR Committee's draft significantly more consideration than just proclaiming it "Dead On Arrival."

Fact is, the ENR Committee's draft would protect over 660,000 acres in Montana as Wilderness. However, the Committee's draft doesn't undermine Wilderness by allowing military helicopters to land in Wilderness or ranchers to ride their ATV's in Wilderness, as Senator Tester's draft allows. By any objective measure, when it comes to Wilderness, the ENR Committee draft is better. So what does this say about MWA and their inexperienced, anonymous posters who continue to pimp Tester's bill, no matter what the specifics?

While the ENR Committee's draft dropped the controversial mandated logging provisions - which the Forest Service called unachievable, unsustainable and not reasonable - Senator Tester's new draft, unfortunately, re-inserts the logging mandates. Based on the ENR Committee's draft, it seems pretty clear that the Committee and Chairman Bingaman will not allow this bill out of Committee if it includes logging mandates. So it seems as if right now Wilderness designation for 660,000 acres of Montana's wildlands is being held captive by the timber industry and Senator Tester's insistence on the U.S. Congress mandating logging, which would be an unprecedented and unwise step.

Matthew Koehler said...

The truth of the matter is that for a decade many of the fifty plus conservation organizations that are a part of our Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign has been working the Forest Service, communities, elected officials and workers on bona-fide restoration or fuel reduction projects. Folks like Furshong and Porter have totally not been honest about that fact...but then again, at least Furshong's paycheck requires that he ignores these facts.

So too, Tester bill supporters have been less than honest about the amount of positive work moving forward on national forests in Montana. The Forest Service in our region finished last year with more timber volume under contract than at any point in the past decade. According to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest supervisor, they too sold more timber last year (over 30 million board feet) than at any point in a decade. Quite literally tens of thousands of acres of fuel reduction and logging work is already approved by the Forest Service (or will be shortly). The same is true of watershed and road restoration projects. Literally there is a backlog of nearly $100 million worth of work in MT and N. ID. Maybe Congress should have been properly funding this watershed and road restoration work as groups like ours have advocated for for nearly 15 years now.

Obviously, with the huge economic crisis we're in – a crisis based on over-consumption and over-development – demand for lumber is still about 50% what it was a few years ago and lumber prices are still near historic lows. So there's not really a whole bunch of demand for timber right now. So do we really need politicians stepping in and mandating logging? What's next? Gulf Coast politicians stepping in to mandate deep water drilling in the Gulf? Or Appalachian politicians mandating mountain top removal coal mining in that region?

I can understand why supporters of the FJRA are resistant to the ENR Committee changes, but when it comes to preserving Wilderness and America's public lands legacy, as well as getting some good watershed restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished, you folks just can't deny that the ENR Committee's draft, while not perfect, is a much better framework to work from. Plus, it might actually pass. Hopefully you folks come to this realization soon. Thanks.

SPARE TIRE said...


Anonymous said...

on wilderness and man's arrogance:

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent
less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her
sweetness and respecting her seniority.”

– E.B. White

Matthew Koehler said...

I had to chuckle a little when I read the comments from Mr. Furshong, MWA’s FJRA organizer over at George Wuerthner's excellent perspective piece on Tester's bill over at titled "Tester's Response Poor Strategy" available at:

Mr. Furshong stated:

"Wilderness philosophers from other states can postulate all they want about Montana politics - such chatter will never result in actual legislation to protect 500,000 acres of ground in the largest National Forest in the lower 48 states and create new jobs at Montana mills that have a record of stewardship best practices.

You know what? Mr. Furshong’s dismissive comment is striking when compared with the fact that just this week the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved 26 bills establishing new Wilderness areas and dealing with other public lands issues. Those 26 bills were approved by the ENR Committee en bloc, by unanimous consent.

Reader’s will recall that Senator Tester’s FJRA is currently before this same Senate ENR Committee. Sometime in May, the ENR Committee sent Senator Tester a draft revision of this bill, which his office shared with the collaborators. Once the media questioned Senator Tester about the ENR’s draft he proclaimed it “Dead on arrival.”

So now, on June 20, the Senate ENR Committee approved 26 bills dealing with Wilderness and public lands issues

Something I’d encourage Wilderness supporters to consider is the very likely fact that if Senator Tester and the collaborators (Mr. Furshong and MWA included) would have accepted the ENR Committee's draft revisions when they were shared about a month ago, it too would have been approved by the Committee this week.

So despite Mr. Furshong’s claim that “such chatter will never result in actual legislation” it sure seems to me that MWA and the other collaborator’s insistence on mandated logging and motors in Wilderness might have cost all of us the opportunity to designate over 660,000 acres as Wilderness and get some good restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished as proposed in the ENR Committee’s draft.

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