Good for Montana’s Senator Jon Tester. With the introduction of legislation he calls “The Forest Jobs and Recreation Bill,” Mr. Tester has stopped the drought and returned Montana to its legacy of encouraging the economy by protecting the land.
Our Senator is attempting to enact a bill that will provide the ultimate environmental protection to 667,000 acres of some of Montana’s most vital and pristine wild ground–critical animal habitat and spawning grounds. By doing that, he is seeking innovative ways to encourage the state’s recreation and natural resources economy.
It is a tall legislative order; one that has been tried before, although with less legislative prescriptions, and, as always, it will not be easy to pull off. Although the bill is attracting support from many sides of this long-running policy debate, it also has and will continue to have its detractors. In most instances the criticism will be constructive. However, we are already hearing nonsense from some of the bill’s opposition.
A few individuals and organizations have wrongfully criticized Senator Tester because of the so-called secrecy in which he developed the bill. From more than 30 years experience in authoring and assisting in the writing of public lands legislation, I can attest that this bill offered by Mr. Tester is the most openly public and locally oriented of any bill of its type in Montana history.
This legislation is the product of unprecedented local collaboration. The Three Rivers area, more commonly known as the Yaak, has taken two decades to develop. During the past several years, recreation, environmental, and timber interests collaborated on the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge plan to find middle ground. Perhaps the blue ribbon and most widely supported agreements are within the Seeley Lake District over in the Lolo Forest. Every word and punctuation mark of that proposal was written by those folks with the most at stake for the good of that region. Those who complain that Senator Tester’s legislation was produced in secret are simply wrong.
Is everyone going to agree with everything that is or isn’t in this bill? Of course not. Do we all agree with everything that has been agreed to by the many local collaborators? Certainly not, but was it developed in secret, in dark corners and out of public view? Nonsense.
Senator Jon Tester has had the guts to re-start this unfinished business of Montana. There will, of course, be ample time for Montanans to be heard and work our will. We each have access to Jon Tester and members of his staff. The committees with legislative jurisdiction will be accepting both written and verbal testimony. It is very likely that the bill will not pass until next year…that in order to give Montanans and others ample time to be heard.
There are lots in the bill to like, including the long awaited appropriate protection of many of Montana’s most critically important and still unroaded public wild lands.
Pat Williams served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana.
FOOTNOTE: For a chronology of four years of NewWest.Net’s extensive coverage of this issue, click here.