Anybody who reads NewWest.Net regularly might be getting a little weary of reading about Senator Jon Tester’s “Jobs and Recreation Act,” S. 1470. So far, by last count, we’ve posted twenty-two articles and columns on the bill and its impact. This includes our own coverage and several guest columns, as we’ve tried to give each major stakeholder a forum to voice their point of view, including one from the senator himself. (Click here to read them all.)
But this bill keeps on giving out stories, it seems, such as these updates and follow-ups to earlier postings.
Where’s Max? If you follow politics in Montana, you’ve noticed that the state’s two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, tend to work in tandem. When one senator keys on an issue (health care, gun rights, recreation fees, border funding, et al), the other senator usually co-sponsors the bill or at least sends out a press release voicing his support. The exception is, apparently, when it comes to anything Wilderness because Senator Baucus has not come on as a co-sponsor of S. 1470, nor has he, as far as I know, said one word about the bill publicly.
No doubt Baucus has been busy trying to solve the health care crisis, but Tester introduced the bill more than three months ago, so Baucus has had plenty of time to sign on.
“Max is looking forward to learning more about this bill,” his communication director Ty Matsdorf told NewWest.Net when asked about it. “Max is proud of the efforts Senator Jon Tester has made to keep the timber industry strong. For years, Senator Tester has been a leader on timber issues. He knows how best to create good paying jobs to put Montanans back to work in the woods–all the while protecting our outdoor heritage.”
I also asked Tester’s staff to comment on why Baucus hasn’t come on board, but no response.
In other words, we have no idea why Baucus hasn’t teamed up with our junior senator to help resolve the Wilderness conflict in Montana. This might not seem like a big deal to some readers, but politically speaking, the silence is deafening. How will Tester get his bill passed when he can’t even muster support from his fellow Democratic senator in his home state?
Will the Gallatin Range court decision help save the West Pioneers? On September 29, District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued a scathing indictment of the Forest Service’s implementation of the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977, S. 393, and the agency’s scandalous policy of allowing motorized recreation in these pristine areas–in this case the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in the Gallatin Range south of Bozeman. Legendary senator Lee Metcalf clearly wanted the Gallatin and eight other Montana wildlands (the so-called “Metcalf areas”) to be managed as Wilderness unless and until Congress decided otherwise. Specifically, Molloy enjoined the Gallatin National Forest from implementing its new travel plan because it continued to allow motorized use in the WSA.
Just think. Thirty-two years later, Montana’s congressional delegation still has not resolved the “Metcalf areas.” Along the way, the FS has allowed, inch by inch–and illegally according to Molloy–uses such as motorized recreation that aren’t consistent with maintaining the wilderness quality of the areas.
This same controversial FS habit is, incidentally, the same reason Senator Tester has decided to release or 80 percent of the West Pioneers WSA (one of the Metcalf areas) in his bill. Here, as in the Gallatin Range, the FS has allowed, inappropriately if not illegally, motorized use when the agency should have been maintaining the wilderness character of the mountain range.
So, it seems like this court decision might be all the justification Tester needs to amend the bill and make the entire West Pioneers a Wilderness and boot out motorized users who shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Again, I asked Tester’s staff to comment on this question, but again, no response.
Question No. 7. Back on September 4, I devoted my column to the secrecy surrounding a poll conducted by the coalition of green groups and timber companies pushing Tester’s wilderness bill. I’d made several requests to have the exact wording of poll’s questions released before posting that column, but the coalition refused. Since then, after a pint of microbrew and a few more emails, Matt McKenna–who also works with former President Bill Clinton, now has his own communication firm in Bozeman called Jackson Creek and has been recently hired to speak for the coalition–decided to release the exact wording of the key question. This question-and-answer was the headliner in the poll, finding that 73 percent of Montanans supported Tester’s wilderness bill.
Here’s the exact wording of question. You make your own judgment as to whether it biases the results.
Q 7. Let me briefly describe the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which would do the following:
- Create jobs in Montana by directing the Forest Service to use light-on-the-land logging and forest restoration projects aimed at improving forest health and reducing forest fire risk;
- Employ forest stewardship contractors to restore Montana’s damaged streams, forest roads, campgrounds and trails;
- Guarantee that motorized vehicles will have access to designated recreation areas;
- Protect Montana’s wildlife habitats and watersheds by designating certain places as Wilderness areas in the Beaverhead Deer Lodge, Lolo and Kootenai National Forests.
Do you FAVOR or OPPOSE the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act that I just described?
Results: Favor–73 percent; Oppose–15 percent; no answer–12 percent.
Ominous gift to the military? Back on July 21, I posted a long article listing What Tester’s Forest Bill Really Does, but I missed one key point. In Section 19(h), S 1470 allows the “Secretary of Defense or the Montana National Guard to permit limited and scheduled landings of aircraft in the Highlands Wilderness Area” and permits “low-level overflights by military aircraft” in all areas designated as Wilderness in the bill.
Add the Front. On September 16, the Coalition to Protect the Rocky Mountain Front, which according to its website, includes “ranchers, outfitters, anglers, business folks, tribal members, and conservationists” proposed the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (RMFHA).
As currently drafted, the legislation adds 86,000 acres of new Wilderness to the existing Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas, creates what the coalition callis a 307,000-acre Conservation Management Area (CMA), and includes detailed plans for dealing with the noxious weed problem on the Front.
The CMA essentially codifies the status quo and the current travel plan for the Front. It prevents new roads and most resource development. It allows very limited motorized use, only “a few miles,” according to coalition spokesperson Jennifer Ferenstein, and mountain biking anywhere the travel plan currently allows it, which is almost all of the CMA. As always is the case, though, bicycles would be banned in the new Wilderness.
The RMFHA is what we now call a “place-based” collaborative effort, similar if not better, than the three local collaborations currently making up S. 1470, so Senator Tester, in keeping with the spirit of the time, how about adding the RMFHA to your bill?
I asked Ferenstien, who is currently coordinating a series of public listening sessions on the RMFHA, if the coalition was pushing Tester for inclusion in S. 1470, and she sort of dodged that question. “We’ve kept in regular communication with all three members of the delegation and their staff,” she said, “We’re working to get this proposal finalized and introduced as soon as possible without cutting corners or the public out of our citizen’s proposal.”
I say, why wait? It’s a perfect fit with everything Senator Tester is trying to do with S. 1470, so the time is right. Adding the RMFHA should broaden support for the beefed up bill.
UPDATE: Even though Senator Jon Tester officially announced his bill on July 17 and it was obviously being circulated weeks in advance of that date, Montana’s Senior Senator Max Baucus did not sign onto it until October 27, 13 days after this column was posted. You can draw your own conclusions on whether or not it was a coincidence……Bill Schneider
Footnote: To read our extensive coverage on Tester’s Wilderness bill, click here.