The newest member of Montana's congressional delegation is returning to the Hi-Line and Havre next week in the midst of a statewide Natural Resources Tour.
Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., will tour Devon Energy Corp. facilities Wednesday and talk to representatives of the company about their work in oil and natural gas exploration and production.
Daines kicked off his statewide tour Wednesday, during Congress' Easter recess, with tours of technology development and manufacturing firm Resodyn Corp. in Butte and NorthWestern Energy's Dave Gates Generating Station near Anaconda, It continued today with a tour of a renewable energy company in Missoula and lumber companies and mills in Missoula and Columbia Falls.
Two of the issues he is looking at during the tour — logging and the Rocky Mountain Front — have been high profile in Montana politics in the last few years.
Daines is touring several logging and lumber mill operations on his tour, and is holding a special session in Choteau to discuss the management of federal land on the Rocky Mountain Front, including the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act sponsored by U.S. Sen. Max Bacus, D-Mont., and co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
His tour also includes listening to people's views on the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act sponsored by Tester and co-sponsored by Baucus.
"The focus of this tour is to highlight Montana's natural resources and to also hear from Montanans about their concerns and ideas regarding the development and management of the state's resources," Daines spokesperson Alee Lockman told the Havre Daily News Wednesday. "Receiving feedback from Montanans regarding current legislative proposals is, of course, a part of that."
Both of those bills sparked some controversy during the U.S. Senate campaign of the man whose seat Daines filled, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Daines won the election to fill Rehberg's place in Congress while the representative made an unsuccessful bid to unseat Tester in last year's Senate race.
Rehberg was sharply critical of Tester's forest bill, saying it tied up too much land with wilderness designations, while Tester said it is a balanced bill that requires logging on federal land and designates permanent recreation areas as well as designating wilderness.
Tester and Baucus re-introduced their respective pieces of legislation this year after they failed to pass last year.
"Sen. Tester continues to press to pass his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act because it will create jobs and improve how we manage our forests," Tester spokesperson Dan Malessa said to the Havre Daily News. "He had a good conversation with Congressman Daines about the bill and hopes Steve will join him in strengthening Montana's economy for generations to come."
Daines said on the floor of the House that he wants to move back toward the intent of a law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, giving 25 percent of the receipts of the sales of timber on federal land to local governments.
"Montana is well-known for its millions of acres of forest land," Daines said. "But acreage that would normally be privately owned and generating tax revenue to help fund essential local services is instead locked away by the federal government. …
"Because Montana has some of the most abundant forests, this commitment to robust timber harvesting also helped to provide jobs for thousands of families in my state," Daines added. "Sadly, timber harvests have plummeted by 90 percent in many areas due to out-of-balance federal policies. Montana was previously home to 30 mills. It is now home to just seven. This means far fewer jobs for Montanans."
The Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act also raised some controversy during the Senate campaign, with Rehberg's detractors saying the only reason he held a listening session in Choteau about the act last year was that Tester signed on as a co-sponsor two weeks earlier.
Baucus said Wednesday that he will continue to push for his legislation.
"The Heritage Act was put together by local ranchers, sportsmen and small businesses coming together around the kitchen table to do what makes sense for their community. This is their bill, I'm just the hired hand moving it through Congress, and I'll continue getting feedback from Montanans and taking my orders from them to make this bill work even better for our state," Baucus said. "We owe it to our kids and grandkids to protect unique treasures like the Front that make Montana the greatest place on earth. On top of that, protecting the Front is good for business and good for Montana jobs, with more than $10 million spent each year in the Front during hunting season alone."
Daines said he wants to hear from residents of the area about the issues facing the Front.
"As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know that Montana's natural resources are not only a vital asset to our state's economy — they are an important part of our state's way of life," Daines said in a press release. "As I work to best serve the people of Montana, it's important to me that I hear first-hand about their ideas and concerns regarding the management of our state's lands so that we can best utilize Montana resources to create jobs and grow our economy, while also ensuring that our state's mountains and rivers are protected for future generations."