As 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 millworkers, was prevented from passing in Congress last month. 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 this bill.
For the last five years, we’ve been working closely with people we 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.
But, 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.
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 starting 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, it 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.
But, it’s also a balanced bill that protects many of the places that are most important to hunters, anglers and conservationists, from the Cenntennial Range to West Pioneers to the Blackfoot and Yaak River valleys. That’s why we have horsemen, bicyclists, snowmobilers, and hikers all signed on.
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.
So, 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.
But one thing is clear: defending the status quo and fighting the old fights 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 Congressman Rehberg to move forward with us.
Loren Rose, Pyramid Mountain Lumber; Tony Colter, Sun Mountain Lumber; Dan Daly, Roseburg Forest Products; Wayne Hirst, Hirst and Associates
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