HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has dismissed a proposed rewrite of his forest bill as “dead on arrival,” and promised to publicly post his counteroffer that is expected next week.
Tester’s bill would create new wilderness in parts of Montana, while increasing logging requirements and establishing permanent recreation areas.
A Senate committee recently came up with its own version that does away with the logging and other mandates that are central to a deal crafted by a group of Montana loggers, environmentalists and others.
“People assume it’s mine, and its not because it does not have those components in there,” Tester said of the new draft. “It’s dead on arrival, as far as I am concerned.”
Tester promised to publicly post on the Internet his counteroffer expected next week, and will also post any other changes he proposes as a final version is negotiated by the Senate in the coming months.
The unusual step follows criticism from opponents who felt the Senate committee version should also have been widely released. Tester said he has nothing to do with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee proposal.
“If they are somebody else’s drafts, then they are somebody else’s and I will not be posting those online,” Tester said.
Tester said his counteroffer will make clear to fellow Democrats in Washington D.C. that he is serious about logging requirements and recreation areas. He will make certain allowances, though.
“They will be significant changes to the first bill, but it is not going to significantly change the timber or recreation components,” Tester said.
Tester said the Senate committee is going to have to realize that all the major parts of the plan need to remain intact, and there is no way they can turn it into just a wilderness bill.
“This is a Montana solution for a forest in Montana,” Tester said. “We don’t need a D.C. bill. We need a Montana bill.”
The Montana Wilderness Association, part of the group that helped craft the original idea, said the final bill has to include logging in order to keep the coalition together.
“I don’t think there is any doubt about this going forward,” said Jan Sensibaugh, MWA executive director. “We are committed to the bill and we are committed to the partnerships we formed through drafting the bill.”
Some environmentalists are attacking the plan for allowing so much logging and creating too little wilderness.
Matthew Koehler, an outspoken opponent, said he prefers the committee’s “discussion draft” and criticized Tester for not widely circulating it once the senator’s office got it.
“The point is that Sen. Tester has had a copy of the discussion draft for a few weeks and he has only shared it with the timber industry and political insiders,” Koehler said. “Requests for him to provide it to the public have been ignored.”
Tester said his bill tries to find the middle ground in contentious land battles and “frivolous lawsuits” that have gripped the state for decades. It creates more than 600,000 acres of wilderness, mostly in southwestern Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and mandates roughly 100,000 acres of logging.
“There are folks out there that want this bill to die. Some are on the far right, some are on the far left,” Tester said. “We’re going to continue to fight to get this bill out of committee. We have our challenges out there, make no mistake about it.”
Tester said the process could stretch into next year.
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