Senator Jon Tester’s (D-MT) mandated logging bill, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, has certainly been discussed and debate on this blog, and elsewhere, since it was introduced in the summer of 2009. See here, here and here for some of the past posts and discussions.
Back in December 2009 I had the honor of representing the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign (a coalition of organizations, small-business owners, scientists, educators, 5th generation Montanans, hikers and backpackers, hunters and anglers, wildlife viewers, outfitters and guides, veterans, retired Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials and former loggers and mill workers dedicated to wildlands protection, Wilderness preservation, and the sound long-term management of our federal public lands legacy) before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The fact that I was invited to deliver testimony by the Committee Chair, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) obviously didn’t sit very well with Senator Tester, who was hoping for more a rubber-stamp dog-n-pony show hearing, not a hearing based on the substance of the bill. (For an interesting account of the hearing read award-winning outdoor writer Bill Schneider’s piece, “What Tester’s Outburst Tells Us.”
Fast-forward to May of this year when Missoulian opinion columnist wrote a piece titled, “Tester’s Forest Jobs Bill Plus Daines Bad for Conservation.” Ochenski, certainly one of the greatest conservationists and environmental, tribal lobbyists in Montana history, ended his piece with this prophetic statement:
“It’s a mystery why the conservation collaborators failed to understand these elementary principles of the legislative process. But if Tester’s bill ever clears the Senate – and Congressman Daines (R-MT) has his way in the House – they are about to learn a very hard and environmentally costly lesson. And more’s the pity for Montana.”
Much of the “support” for Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill is being manufactured and orchestrated by the Montana Wilderness Association with the ample assistance of over 1/2 million dollars from the Pew Foundation’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness. That amount of money goes a long ways in a state like Montana, with collaborator environmental groups like the Montana Wilderness Association spending the money on internal focus groups, one-sided internal polling (which is presented to the public as independent and unbiased), “public” presentations where only supporters of the bill are allowed to present and plenty of TV, radio and newspaper ads flooding the state. All the while, MWA has engaged in a pattern of censorship and removal of any substantive comments on their social media sites which mention anything critical about Tester’s mandated logging bill.
Well, here we are a few months following Ochenski’s dire warning to the environmental “collaborators” supporting Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill. This summer, MWA staff have been heavily courting Rep Steve Daines (R-MT) to introduce Tester’s bill in the House. People may have noticed that the Montana Wilderness Association has been actively getting their members to submit glowing Letters to the Editor about how great Steve Daines is and how he should join Sen Tester and Sen Baucus to support mandated logging of national forests in Montana. In fact, this website was recently launched by MWA.
Yesterday’s Missoulian article, “Daines makes additions to U.S. House bill to speed timber harvests” gives people in Montana and across the country (especially those who value Wilderness and public lands) an indication of 1) just where Rep Daines wants to take national forest policy; and 2) just how irresponsible and naive the environmental “collaborators” are if they think Rep Daines will be their big Wilderness and public lands protection champion.
According to The Wilderness Society, which also ironically supports Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill, Rep Daines and Rep Hastings (R-WA) “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county payments program, simultaneously creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablishing the discredited 25% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.
Furthermore, under Rep Daines and Rep Hasting’s bill, public participation and Endangered Species Act protections would be severely limited. The bill creates huge loopholes in NEPA and such biased ESA requirements that in practice these laws would almost never meaningfully apply. For example, any project less than 10,000 acres (that’s 15.6 square miles) would be categorically excluded from environmental analysis and public participation, and the Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.
Obviously, while politically mandated logging of America’s national forests is a terrible, dangerous precedent for the environmental community to push for, it goes without saying that Rep Daines and the GOP would make the bad provisions within Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill that much worse. It will also be interesting to see if any of the environmental “collaborators” supporting Tester’s mandated logging bill will actually rise up and speak out against Rep Daines mandated logging bill, or if they will continue to generate favorable Letters to the Editor about Rep Daines on public lands issues.