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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.

Let’s Applaud Senator Tester’s Bill

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.

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17 comments

  1. As I’ve more or less said before, I’m personally not against jobs or all the happy things that Tester and his handlers describe as being in this proposal or even a “compromise” when the need arises. But, the problem’s with this proposal are… 1) this particular “compromise” isn’t a very good compromise, not a good trade for conservation; there isn’t a good balance or trade between what the “enviros” are asked to release for exploitation and motorized mayhem and what gets preserved; 2) the need for “compromise” on the “enviro” side has not yet clearly arisen; these roadless areas are still in Vilsack’s control and I don’t see any reason to panic; and 3) I’m afraid that this bill is such an insulting giveaway by the “enviro” side that, aside from the fact that I find the lopsided imbalance of it insulting and don’t like to be insulted, I believe this kind of skewed giveaway will form a bad precedent and serve to damage future preservationist positions.

  2. This bill is an egregious and incredibly misguided end run on the USDA-Forest Service planning process, public involvement and our language. Self-appointed forest managers made up of local special-interest groups are prescribing logging operations, designating motorized recreation areas and carving out “wilderness areas” in a random throw-a-dart-at-the-map quid pro quo manner.

    All of the “wilderness” aspects are very apologetic and hostile to true wilderness activists and the reasoning behind fighting for designation of wilderness quality lands on their own merits.

    It really is a gruesome bill to read – forest as factory and power plant. All so that loggers can go back to living in some kind of 1960’s bubble where the sounds of whining chain saws and log trucks made dollar signs dance before their eyes. There is a haunting sense that the “collaborators” (including Tester) became entranced by new-found logger-envy powers and their ability to redefine words like restoration, stewardship and ecological health.

    As appealing as it may be to promote the idea of local interests forging “collaborative” agreements regarding wilderness and land use, the fact is, these are national public lands.
    These closed-door negotiations leave the public in the dark and use our public lands as bargaining chips for Wilderness.

    Will all forests soon be managed by local special interest “collaborators?” Will Tester come to all other failing businesses with such protective zeal as he demonstrates here for the forest products industry? Write us all in for some guaranteed work, Jon. Get your fellow collaborators and cut us all a piece of the pie.

    Jon Tester should be as embarrassed by his handiwork here as I am that I voted for him.

  3. As a strong conservative, outdoorsman, and life-long Montana resident, I was actually amazed that after reading about Sen. Tester’s proposal I thought it had merit. But then I read Pat Williams’ comment that for the most part agrees with my thinking. Thus I’m now thinking, if Pat Williams endorses the proposal, there must be a skunk hiding in the underbrush. Endorsement from Williams is not going to help Tester’s cause among we Montana’s (except maybe those living in Missoula), in fact, just the opposite. Williams should butt-out.

  4. not in compromising mood

    Guess I woke up on the wrong side of bed. Looked at that bill and all I could see were supposed conservationists giving up wild roadless country to the same old archaic timber industry which has seemed to dominate politically and financially since I was a kid many years ago. Maybe there is something I don’t see; all I know is that I would give up my pickup truck to see the likes of Frank Church and Lee Metcalf again. Those politicians brought honor to the name polituician; they would fight to the end to protect the wild country they were proud to represent. I remember living in Idaho when the River of No Return wilderness was being worked on; everyone agreed that 1.4 million acres represented a good compromise; Frank put his shoulder to it and we ended up with 2.3 million wonderful and wild acres. Jon Tester is a feeble disgusting shadow beside those guys.

  5. Binky Griptight

    Although the GF Tribune polls seems to be swinging anti-wilderness, I have to wonder why the logging industry and the Blue Ribbon Coalition is so quiet about this bill. Is it because they like what they see?

  6. Matthew Koehler

    It’s certainly interesting to note that when Pat Williams gave examples to support his statement that “This legislation is the product of unprecedented local collaboration” he left out any mention of the Beaverhead Partnership. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it? It also seems a bit disingenuous on Williams part, given that much of the concern with Tester’s Logging bill has been tied to the Beaverhead Partnership’s origins and actual plan. After all, it has been the secrecy with which the self-selected and exclusive Beaverhead Partnership has been operating under – from the moment they starting meeting in the winter of 2006 (almost a year before Tester took office) – that has caused so much concern, heartache and opposition among dedicated conservationists and public lands policy experts from around the country.

    For an interesting look at some of these concerns I’d encourage people to check out this article by Erica Rosenberg, who directs the program on public policy at Arizona State University’s law school and served as counsel to the US House Resources Committee from 1999-2004. http://www.counterpunch.org/rosenberg01252008.html

    Also worth reading is a new report from Michael Fiebig and Dr. Martin Nie, professor of Natural Resources Policy at the Univ. of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation titled, “Place-based Legislation as Method of Resolving Multiple-Use Conflicts on
    National Forests.” It’s available at: http://wildwestinstitute.org/pdf/Place_based_forest_law.pdf

    When sending out the report Nie had wrote, ” It appears to us that some key factors and considerations are missing from the political debate, and we hope that the paper brings those important issues to the fore in a constructive fashion.”

    Finally, in the fall of 2006, a few months after the “Beaverhead Partnership” revealed their plan crafted in secret (and before Tester even took office) I was part of planning committee for a National Meeting on Forest/Wilderness Collaboration that brought together 70 conservation leaders from around the country with a diversity of perspectives on collaboration to try to crystallize this discussion. We invited representatives from Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and MT Trout Unlimited, but they refused to attend, which is pretty much par for the course for these folks.

    Among the 70 diverse conservation leaders there was universal condemnation for the “process” used by the Beaverhead Partnership. We developed a set of Collaboration Best Practices for the Conservation Community (which can be downloaded at: http://www.americanlands.org/assets/docs/1176314811_FinalCollaborationGuidelines3-07.pdf and I would encourage interested people to check out).

    One thing the 70 diverse participants also did was come up with “Red Flags to Look for when Considering Entering into a Collaboration.” Suffice to say, the Beaverhead Partnership was guilty of breaking each and everyone one of these:

    * Participation requires organization to compromise fundamental values;
    * The key issues require legislative or legal determinations outside the scope of the group;
    * There is little or no incentive to solve a problem, meet a deadline, or engage adversaries;
    * Fair access to independent expertise to understand or consult on technical issues is lacking;
    * Diverse representation is not available, or key individual representatives cannot participate;
    * The convening agency lacks commitment to process;
    * The resource is too significant, sensitive, or unsuitable for negotiation.

  7. Vincent Vangocart

    I see the critics are throwing stones early this morning, but I want to thank Mr. Williams for his fine article. He speaks from experience on how tough it is to forge common ground and I couldn’t agree more with his support of Senator Tester and his leadership by introducing the Forest Jobs bill.

    I sure applaud his efforts and after having numerous conversations with family and neighbors on this issue, I’d say there will broad support across Montana for this common sense approach. I think it reflects well on the values we share here in Montana.

    Thank Mr. Williams and thank you Senator Tester.

  8. Matthew Koehler

    Vincent, Please do us all a favor and stop referring to raising issues, concerns, questions, economic reality, other points of view, etc regarding public lands management, public policy, taxpayer subsidies and the future of our country and economy as “throwing stones.”

    This is especially true since, for the most part, none of the supporters of Tester’s Mandated Logging Bill ever seems to address any of these bona-fide, completely legitimate concerns/questions, etc. While such tactics might be part of acceptable political practice these days they have no place in discussions over the management of public lands, which belong equally to all Americans. Thanks.

  9. I agree that the support of Williams is nothing to brag about. Maybe he feels he can reach out to his Missoula trust fund supported enviro neighbors better than a farmer from the highline.

    Mr. Koehler you can continue the name calling of the bill anything you want. Tester didn’t designate it a ‘wilderness’ bill because that doesn’t seem to be the priority. Maybe you could complain about the ‘forest jobs’ and ‘recreation’ parts for a new and (at least) interesting change.

  10. No, wilderness IS the priority if you read the 84 pages. There are no major changes in the legal environment. No bonding requirement or loser pays for litigation, no “sufficiency” language in terms of NEPA or other procedure.
    Sure, a couple areas are released from wilderness study, but I would bet good money that they were declared “not recommended” in the review process.
    100,000 acres is pretty pathetic in face of three million acres of dead wood the past couple years, and even more so when the life of the bill is only 15 years while the effects of designation are in fact permanent in terms of taking 670,000 acres off the table.
    Any wilderness deals in Montana have to have protection for the multiple use part of the package. Otherwise the goalposts just get moved. There needs to be triggers in this thing…such as, “only after 70,000 acres have been treated, wildfire hazard is down such and such, the trail rider satisfaction index is so and so, sedimentation indices are so and such, and the county commissioners (or county residents through referendum) are satisfied with implementation and outcomes, THEN area such and such becomes wilderness.
    This is all front-loaded incrementalism. That’s why Pat supports it. That the timber guys have been kicked to their knees the past 20 years has a lot to do with why they would even look at something like this. It’s kinda like Jake in the tunnel — Please Don’t Kill Us! We’ll do ANYTHING!
    And if the forestry people go away, the forest IS in fact going to literally go to Hel. And then there will be “hel” to pay for the environmental groups, some of whom are genuinely cognizant of the fact their social license is in danger of revocation.
    Finally, I’m hearing tell that the Yaak proposal got a rather icy reception at the KFS meeting this week, and not a single Lincoln County elected official signed off on it. So if that’s Pat’s take of reality, then maybe this bill IS a skunk not only in Lincoln, but Powell and Beaverhead.

  11. Mr. Toff;

    You can support a tax payer subsidized give away to the wood products corporations if you wish.

    But you should at least be honest in your terminology.

    This is socialism, pure and simple. It’s socialism for the corporations, because the Tester Logging Bill uses our tax dollars to subsidize the costs of taking trees from our public lands for the benefit of the wood products corporations.

    Like yourself, I have nothing against socialism – except i would prefer socialism that benefits society as a whole instead of socialism that benefits the wealthy few.

    That is where you and I differ, apparently.

  12. Steve – I guess I look at it at going to local wood products companies, employing local folks, paying local taxes, buying local energy, etc, etc.
    I really cannot think of the “wealthy few” you refer to that would benefit that much. The last wealthy timberman around here just filed bankruptcy and sold his ‘Club’.

  13. Pat is a nice guy and I have a lot of respect for him. I first met Pat some twenty-five years ago when I was back in DC lobbying for the National Wildlife Federation to save the last of the Old Growth Forest in the Northwest. I was working the dry chain at the Plum Creek mill in Belgrade and volunteer president of the Gallatin Wildlife Association at the time. I have been deeply involved with the Montana Wildlife ever since. When Pat states that the Beaverhead Partnership has not be done in secrecy he is simply wrong. Pat may be correct concerning the other two citizen plans rolled into Testers Bill, however it is nonsense to believe the Partnership as seen the light of public involvement and input. The Partnership has been the bastard of that Forest’s planning since its inception when it forced in as the preferred alternative after the formal planning process was closed. Pat is being disingenuous to the public and the process when he promotes these untruthful facts regarding the Partnership and the Tester Bill.

  14. All I know is that out of some 6 million acres of “wilderness study” and roadless areas – nearly all of which should rightfully be designated “Wilderness”, Pat Williams had a bill which designated some 3.6 million acres wilderness, and left the rest to various “multiple use” and traditional Forest Service management. This was the bill which Marlenee asked Reagan to veto, which he did.
    We didn’t like Pat’s bill then. The alternative Burns proposal (I don’t know if it was ever an actual bill) kept something like 1.9 million acres for wilderness – generally considered a “rocks and ice” bill.
    Didn’t the Tester bill reduce this further to some 667,000 acres of designated wilderness (I’m doing this all from memory, so please correct me), while actually subsidizing timber removal, sawmills, roads, etc.? And even worse, it removes even existing Forest Service restrictions from much of the land released?
    Of course the Democrat Machine, which relies so heavily on resource industry and their union’s support would have to love this bill. And, of course, the Teachers and Public Employees unions support it, too. There must be some “stimulus” in there for them, as well.
    If you wonder why people hate the Federal Government, this is all the data you need. Unfortunately, the once-honest Republicans are now just as much panderers, rake-off artists, and outright bill-brokers. Conrad Burns was the King, and Tester is his heir-apparent. He and Baucus are so busy looking for “bi-partisan” support that they’ve forgotten who voted for them in the first place.
    Shame on Pat for supporting this.

  15. What it boils down to, the enviros wanted the whole enchilada for just themselves…..and will do their best to get it, no matter wht it costs the American taxpayer. Environmental groups are NOT taxpayers and do not share in the responsibility of maintaining the land.

  16. Great editorial Pat!

    This is a good bill that should be supported.

  17. Terrible bill that fails to keep roadless areas roadless. In fact, it seems to mandate the development of them.