Tester holds, sets open houses on his forest bill
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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is holding a series of open houses across the state to explain and collect input on a bill he has proposed to expand both logging and wilderness in Montana. Tester held an open house in Dillon Saturday to discuss the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which he has sponsored in the U.S. Senate, and another open house was scheduled this morning in Bozeman. Tester said during a press conference Thursday that he crafted the bill after gathering extensive comments from Montanans about what is needed in forest management in Montana. “This is a project Montanan's created by working together,” he said. The bill intends to create jobs and reduce the chance of wildfires by requiring at least 100,000 acres of timber harvest over ten years in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. The bill also creates more than 560,000 acres of new wilderness land in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, creates a special management section and designates 30,000 acres as wilderness in the Kootenai National Forest, and sets aside an area for snowmobile use and also designates 83,000 acres as wilderness as an addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness in the Lolo National Forest. During the conference Thursday, Tester said part of what he is trying to address in the bill is the large amount of dead wood caused by pine bark beetles in the state, including the increased chance of fires due to that dead wood. “It's really the reason why we think this forest and jobs bill is so critically important we can harvest that dead wood, offer jobs and better recreation,” Tester said. “The beetle- kill problem is a huge problem, and one lightning strike and we've got a bigger problem.” The increased logging also could work with legislation sponsored and co-sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., in the House of Representatives. In February Rehberg sponsored a bill promoting wood being harvested in Montana to be used as a base for the creation of alternative energy. Last week Rehberg joined a bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R- Neb., in April, as a co-sponsor. That bill would set up a revolving loan fund from which no-interest loans could be made to public institutions like schools and hospitals to pay the initial cost of switching over to biomass, like the proposed biomass from Montana wood harvesting, for energy production. Tester has received some criticism that he was not very open in the crafting of his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, but he said he had extensive public comments while preparing to write the bill. In a press release issued Friday, Tester said he wrote the bill after seeking input from stakeholders across the state and hosting listening sessions in Libby, Missoula, Deer Lodge and Townsend. The legislation is based on proposals by loggers, conservationists, motorized users, hunters and anglers, he said. Tester also has set a page on his Senate Web site where people can read about the bill, and click to show they support the legislation. As of Friday, more than 1,000 Montanans had signed up as citizen cosponsors, the release said. The Associated Press reports that Tester also has released maps intended to ease fears that the bill would close some trails that are favorites of off-road enthusiasts. "I think it shows that the forest is big enough for everyone," Tester told the AP. While some people are concerned that Tester's bill would close too much land now open for public use including snowmobiling, motorcycling and allterrain vehicles, the other side of the issue also has had complaints. Some environmental groups have said the bill does not set enough land with a wilderness designation and that too much is opened for logging. Tester said Thursday that he hopes the series of open houses his office plans to hold others in other communities in coming weeks will both help people better understand what the legislation will do and help his office collect more comments and ideas on the issue.