Sen. Jon Tester today announced that he hopes to make revisions to his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, legislation that has drawn widespread support, criticism and suggestions from Montanans — some of which Tester said he’d insert into the legislation.
The Senator, speaking at a small press conference in Missoula, said the proposed 21 changes—some involving simple word clarifications and others more meaty—were brought to his attention by a wide variety of individuals and organizations, from the Montana Wood Products Association and the University of Montana School of Forestry to environmental groups and the Montana AFL-CIO.
The revisions would help prevent legal logjams, give more support to the timber industry, and require earlier monitoring of forest health, Tester said. Some of the changes, for example, would extend the mandated time period for the “timber and restoration” portion of the bill, which calls for 10,000 acres of timber to be cut annually. The current legislation (S. 1470) allows the timber directives to last 15 years or until 100,000 acres are affected, whichever comes later. Tester’s revision calls for the timber directives to continue for the life of the bill, with monitoring at regular intervals.
The revisions would also:
— Require disputes to go through mediation instead of going directly to court, potentially saving time, money and timber jobs.
— Require judges to consider the “balance of harm” when deciding whether to issue a legal injunction to stop forest projects. With this language inserted, judges would have to weigh both the potential short-term harm of a project and the potential long-term harm of a shut-down’s economic impacts. (Tester said he’s also considering adding a provision that would limit the length of legal injunctions, “so that they don’t go on until the timber in question isn’t valuable any more.”)
— Reduce from 5 years to 3 years the amount of time before Congress receives a monitoring report that assesses how the bill has affected timber management, fire risk reduction and restoration.
— Mandate that restoration work be monitored and a report issued every three years.
— Require that local workers and businesses get preferred status for jobs and contracts.
— Include grazing in the ‘findings’ section of the bill, which currently focuses “too much” on timber, recreation and wilderness, Tester said. “Grazing is always going to be allowed in wilderness,” he added.
The Democratic Senator said he hoped to get the new provisions into the markup of the bill, introduced in July and currently in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).
Some changes, Tester said, were suggested, considered — and firmly rejected. These included ideas offered by Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), who has proposed a “phase-in” or “trigger” for the bill’s wilderness designations, so that they wouldn’t all happen simultaneously, but could take effect after a timber harvest.
Tester today said a phase-in would make the bill dead on arrival — an opinion he said was seconded by Bingaman. “The chairman told me if the phase-in language is in the bill, the bill would die,” Tester said. “The trigger language is really a poison pill.” Arguments that wilderness should only be designated after timber is harvested “are arguments from the past,” Tester added. “We’ve got to put the past behind us.”