Guest opinion: Tester’s forest jobs bill would boost state industry

Posted: February 15, 2012

Source: Billings Gazette 

Beetle Kill forest killed due to poor forestry practicesAs timber mill owners and managers in Montana, we’re disappointed that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a bill to create jobs for loggers and mill workers, was prevented from passing in Congress last week. Hundreds of workers in our mills, along with hundreds of independent contractors and vendors we work with, all supporting hundreds of families and whole communities throughout Western Montana, are disappointed by congressional inaction on thisbill.

For the last five years, we’ve been working closely with people who don’t always agree with us. Together, we’ve developed a new way to approach forest management that creates jobs by requiring more work to get done in the woods while also protecting the places that we all love to hunt and fish.

We’re not going to give up. The gridlock in the forests — not to mention Congress — bolsters our belief that Montanans have far more to gain by focusing on our agreements instead of our differences.

Obviously, not everyone agrees even on that point, including our lone voice in the House of Representatives, Denny Rehberg. But the majority of Montanans do agree. Polls have shown strong public support for this bill, and as Montanans push harder in the months ahead for forest jobs, recreation opportunities and better stewardship overall, we want our congressman to start pulling on our behalf.

7,000 Montana jobs

The total value of Montana’s primary wood and paper products was approximately $325 million last year, and our industry employed almost 7,000 people. That’s a huge economic input, especially during a recession. And we have the potential to be much more productive in the future, if politicians start working together in D.C. like we’ve been working together here in Montana.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is the best example of legislation that would help our industry move forward. First introduced in July 2009 by Sen. Jon Tester and soon endorsed by Sen. Max Baucus, the bill incorporates three community-based, collaborative proposals to improve forest stewardship in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and portions of the Lolo and Kootenai national forests. Each part of the bill represents years of hard work by people in communities with close ties to the forest.

We want to be clear, this bill will create and maintain jobs in our wood products industry. It mandates responsible timber harvest and restoration and it sets up collaborative processes that would leverage cooperation over conflict. It’s a bill that tackles some of the most difficult challenges that the Forest Service faces when they’re trying to get a forest restoration project from planning to implementation and we believe it would result in better decisions and less litigation.

It’s also a balanced bill that protects many of the places that are most important to hunters, anglers and conservationists, from the Centennial Range to West Pioneers to the Blackfoot and Yaak river valleys. That’s why horsemen, bicyclists, snowmobilers and hikers all signed on.

Reasonable balance

The worst anyone can say about this bill is that it strives for a reasonable balance instead of ideological purity. Extremists don’t like the bill. Critics include people who oppose all logging, every wilderness designation, or any hint of compromise.

How much longer will it take to pass the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act? What will it take to pull our congressional delegation together on our behalf? We can only guess.

One thing is clear: Defending the status quo and fighting the old fight seems more and more out of touch with each passing day. That type of approach does a disservice to all those who have worked so hard to move Montana forward. We encourage Rep. Rehberg to move forward with us.

Loren Rose of Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Missoula collaborated on this column with Tony Colter of Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge, Dan Daly of Roseburg Forest Products in Missoula and Wayne Hirst of Libby.