I can’t believe I read the whole thing. And below is a boiled down list of what Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009 really does.
But first, a few general observations.
One thing the bill does, no doubt, is provide a big challenge for its readers–as I’m sure it will the agency managers if they get a chance to implement it. The Wilderness designations are straightforward, but the lengthy (about half the bill) stewardship logging section and what is allowed or not allowed in the alternative areas (National Recreation Areas, et al) left me scratching my head on a few points.
Fortunately, Tester’s staff was kind enough to have a long conference call with me this morning to review the most confusing points before posting this analysis, so hopefully, I have the correct interpretation of what the bill really does for Montana and Montanans.
This is a very detailed and complicated piece of legislation. The 84-page bill actually does more than listed below, but most of the rest is administrative and legal procedure that would have little impact on the public, so I tried to concentrate on the significant points. I’m not listing these points in any order of priority, but roughly the same sequence they’re covered in the legislation. Enjoy.
Stewardship areas. The bill mandates that the Forest Service (FS) “mechanically treat” 7,000 acres per year in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 3,000 acres per year in the Kootenai National Forest. To meet this requirement, the FS must create at least one “landscape-scale restoration area” (i.e. 50,000 acres or more) within a year of the bill’s passing, and the mandated cuts come out of this landscape-level area. The Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest is included in the bill, but there’s no such requirement for a minimum cut.
All timber cutting mandated by the bill has environmental restrictions, such as removal of all temporary logging roads. In fact, all new roads and some existing roads must be either reclaimed or converted to recreational trails, with motorized use usually allowed on the new trails.
The required cutting come from more than 2 million acres of mostly roaded forestland in three national forests that has already been identified for timber management under current forest plans. There is some roadless country opened to timber management, but no accurate figure on how much, but practically most logging will occur in already roaded landscapes because this is the low-hanging fruit.
The bill also sets priorities for designating stewardship areas, prioritizing areas that already have high road density and where past logging practices have damaged fish and wildlife habitat (and needs restoration) or have high potential for bug infestations.
NEPA. The bill requires all stewardship projects to be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
Grizzly bears Any future logging plans driven by the bill must adhere to multi-agency Grizzly Bear Management Plans.
Money. Even though the bill clearly creates a lot of extra work for the FS, it provides no additional funding, but does state: “There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out this title.”
Senator Tester not only has a seat on the powerful appropriation committee, but also a seat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which authorizes money for the FS, even though the FS is in the Department of Agriculture. This makes his staff hopeful necessary appropriations will be forthcoming.
Reporting and monitoring. Agencies must submit progress reports to Congress every five years.
Biomass projects. Sets up a system for cost-sharing and subsidizing “heat and power biomass systems” and calls for a study to see how biomass systems could benefit local communities, giving agencies 18 months to complete the study and come up with a plan.
Designates the following Wilderness Areas (609,000 acres total) on national forest land.All new Wilderness Areas are currently congressionally mandated Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) or Inventoried Roadless Areas:
Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness Additions. 56,680 acres of contiguous roadless land added to the existing Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness
East Pioneers Wilderness. 75,775 acres just west of Dillon, significantly down from the 87,500-acre Wilderness called for in the draft legislation written two years ago by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership (BDP). The bill reduced the proposed Wilderness by about 10,000 acres on the north end of the East Pioneers because the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) official forest plan didn’t recommend this area for Wilderness, and the bill’s drafters gave preference to the FS plan over the BDP recommendations.
Dolus Lake Wilderness. 9,367 acres in the Flint Creek Range west of Deer Lodge, up from an 8,500-acre Wilderness proposed in the draft BDP legislation.
Electric Peak Wilderness. 4,653 acres southeast of Deer Lodge encompassed within the 22,037-acre Thunderbolt National Recreation Area (NRA), also created by the bill. The draft BDP legislation called for a 9,200-acre Wilderness.
Lee Metcalf Wilderness Additions. 18,950 acres of contiguous roadless land added to the existing Lee Metcalf Wilderness.
Highlands Wilderness. 20,392 acres south of Butte.
Italian Peaks Wilderness. 29,508 acres in the far southwest corner of Montana.
Lima Peaks Wilderness. 35,150 acres in the far southwest corner of Montana.
Lost Cabin Wilderness. 5,223 acres east of Dillon.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness. 4,465 acres just west of Yellowstone National Park (YNP).
Quigg Peak Wilderness. 8,388 acres east of Hamilton.
Sapphire Wilderness. 53,327 acres east of Hamilton. About half of the Sapphire WSA (51,000 acres), which is in the Bitterroot National Forest, is omitted from the bill, but will remain as a WSA and managed for wilderness suitability until Congress decides otherwise. The bill’s drafters increased the size of the Sapphire Wilderness over what was proposed in the draft BDP legislation, which called for a 43,500-acre Wilderness. Not all of the WSA on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge was proposed for wilderness in the bill, As a concession to the local snowmobile club, about 5,000 acres was withdrawn, but the bill’s drafters added 5,000 acres of non-WSA forestland to substitute for the withdrawal.
Snowcrest Wilderness. 89,798 acres near the northwest corner of YNP and east of Dillon, down from 92,000 acres proposed in the draft BDP legislation.
Stony Mountain Wilderness. 14,261 acres west of Hamilton, down from 15,500 proposed in draft BDP legislation.
West Big Hole Wilderness. 44,084 acre West Big Hole Wilderness, in two separate areas along the Idaho/Montana border south of Darby and encompassed with in a 94,237-acre West Big Hole National Recreation Area, a combination similar to the Rattlesnake Wilderness and NRA on the north edge of Missoula, although likely with more motorized use allowed. This is a dramatic reduction from the draft BDP legislation, which called for a 92,000-acre Wilderness.
West Pioneers Wilderness. 25,742 acres in two separate areas west of Dillon encompassed in a 129,252-acre NRA with bicycles and motorized recreation allowed on existing trails.. The BDP draft legislation called for a 34,400-acre Wilderness.
Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Additions. 78,977 acres in two separate roadless lands adjacent to these existing Wilderness Areas, all west of Seeley Lake and north of Ovando. Also creates the 1,271-acre Otalsy NRA on the south end of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and contiguous to the proposed additions.
Mission Mountains Wilderness Additions. 4,501 acres of contiguous roadless lands to the Mission Mountains Wilderness northeast of Seeley Lake.
Roderick Wilderness. 29,869 acres in the Yaak area northwest of Libby, and the nearby 74,274-acre Three Rivers Special Management Area northwest of the Wilderness but not contiguous to it.
Release of West Pioneer and Sapphire WSAs Removes congressional protections and “releases” any of the West Pioneer and Sapphire WSAs not designated as Wilderness under the bill and specifically says the FS is no longer required to manage the two released areas to ensure their suitability for future wilderness designation. Keep in mind that the Bitterroot National Forest section of the Sapphires will remain congressionally protected as an WSA.
Designates five Wilderness Areas (59,000 acres total) on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All are currently classified as WSAs.
Blacktail Mountains Wilderness. 10,667 acres east of Dillon.
Centennial Mountains Wilderness. 23,256 acres just west of YNP.
Farlin Creek Wilderness. A tiny 661-acre area southwest of Dillon.
Ruby Mountains Wilderness. 15,504 acres east of Dillon.
Humbug Spires Wilderness. 8,892 acres south of Butte.
Release of BLM WSAs. Removes congressional protections and “releases” seven BLM WSAs.
Lost Creek Protection Area. Creates 15,134-acre Lost Creek Protection Area on BLM lands west of Anaconda.
Recreational trail enhancement. Agencies “may” develop a plan “to provide enhanced recreational trail opportunities.”
Grazing rights. Guarantees grazing rights will be preserved in all Wilderness created b the bill..
Motorized Recreation. Prohibited in all new Wildernesses, but allowed in NRAs, Protection Areas and Special Management Areas, although in some cases, only snowmobiles, not on-the-ground motorized vehicles, and only on existing or new roads and trails. Off-trail motorized use is prohibited.
Mechanized Recreation. A new agency buzzword for “mountain biking,” and allowed in most of the alternative designations. In at least three areas (East Pioneers, Sapphires and Lee Metcalf Additions), the bill’s drafters made specific boundary adjustments as concessions to mountain bikers to leave popular trails open to bicycles.
Advisory committees. Calls for the formation of “advisory committees of local collaborative groups” to comment on stewardship projects.
That, in a nutshell, is what the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009 would do for Montana and Montanans.