HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s bill to increase both logging and wilderness areas appears to be dead this Congress after the Senate abandoned a huge catchall spending measure that included it.
Tester’s bill was added to the legislation Tuesday, but Democrats controlling the Senate abandoned the spending measure late Thursday after an outcry from conservatives who complained it was stuffed with more than $8 billion in pet projects known as earmarks. The measure combined nearly $1.3 trillion worth of unfinished budget work.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will work with Republican leader Mitch McConnell to produce a bill to keep the federal government running into early next year.
Tester’s forest bill would create new wilderness areas in parts of the state, increase logging requirements and establish permanent recreation areas.
The Montana Democrat has said the bill would boost the logging industry, designate areas for motorized use and give environmentalists increased protections in other parts of the forest.
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. Meanwhile, it would designate about 370,000 acres of permanent recreation areas, such as for snowmobiles.
A centerpiece of the legislation would designate 666,260 acres of wilderness, about 2,800 less than originally proposed.
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