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Partisan differences doom wilderness, logging plan

HELENA (AP) — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester's plan for more logging and wilderness areas in Montana again appears doomed by partisan differences accentuated by his heated 2012 Senate race with U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Tester, a Democrat, has been trying to attach his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to the year-end congressional budget deal. But Rehberg, a Republican, opposes the measure and says he is making sure House leaders won't accept it.

Rehberg is challenging Tester in a race that is already among the most watched in the country as the parties vie for Senate control. Both sides have made Tester's forest bill an issue.

The measure comes from loggers and environmentalists who agreed to a deal that mandates more logging in Montana while also creating more wilderness area. Supporters bill it as a compromise between two factions that have warred over forest policy for decades.

But opposition has created strange bedfellows, too.

Those ardently opposed to wilderness areas, like mining groups, say the deal sets too much land aside — and some environmentalists opposed to the deal say it trades too much logging for far too little wilderness.

Rehberg has lined up to oppose it, arguing there is no guarantee the logging will take place after the new wilderness is established.

"Sen. Tester's wilderness bill simply isn't good for Montana and that's why Denny worked to keep it out of the Interior Appropriations Bill," said spokesman Jed Link. "New Wilderness areas are guaranteed in the Tester bill but new jobs are not. In the long run, this bill will mean less public access to our lands and fewer jobs. And that's just not a fair deal for Montanans."

In total, the legislation would mandate 70,000 acres of mechanical treatment on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and on 30,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest over 15 years. It would designate about 370,000 acres of recreation areas, such as for snowmobiles.

A centerpiece of the legislation, which has attracted the support of the Montana Wilderness Association and some other environmental groups, would designate 666,260 acres of wilderness.

Tester's office blamed Rehberg for the difficulty in attaching the measure to a spending deal.

"Congressman Rehberg is now personally responsible for killing guaranteed Montana jobs," said Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy. "That fact that Dennis Rehberg actively worked against a popular, bipartisan, made-in-Montana jobs bill — simply because Jon's name is on it — shows his true colors: Congressman Rehberg is not looking out for Montana; he is very clearly only interested in his own political career."

Tester was also stymied last year in similar efforts to attach the measure, first proposed two years ago, to year-end legislation.


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