Good Feelings

By Beacon Staff

Last time I wrote about forest legislation in the Republican-controlled U.S. House that, if made law, might make a dent in the multi-million-acre monolith of malfunction that is federal public lands management – and is therefore toast in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

There’s other forest legislation in the U.S. Senate, which in turn is toast in the House: the cruelly-misnamed Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA), numbered S-37 this third time around.

However, sponsor Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told Lee reporter Mike Dennison last week he “feels better” than he ever has about FJRA’s chances, hinting strongly that Congressman Steve Daines of Montana should get on board. Bipartisan comity, ya know.

FJRA was born in a blizzard the day of a Senate “field hearing” called by then-Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) in the winter of 2005-06. At issue was a disastrous proposed forest plan for the 3.3 million-acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF), which enraged and unified every user faction – not just timber, but everyone – except environmentalists.

After a packed hearing, crowded three-to-one not-Greens to Greens in Missoula, cancelled flights had Burns and mill owner Sherm Anderson sharing a ride with Tim Baker of the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA).

Tim Baker played his chance of a lifetime brilliantly … so out of the blue, in late April 2006, it was reported “Timber, Conservation Groups Reach Deal,” for 573,000 acres of new wilderness and 713,000 acres of “suitable timber” on the BDNF – stunning news, utter dynamite that instantly turned an emerging and genuine coalition of diverse “multiple-use” groups back into a herd of angry cats.

I asked a well-respected industry guy how in tarnation the timber people decided they had a right to throw everyone else under the bus. His answer: “Sherm always does what’s right for Sherm.”

The members of the so-called Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership took their show on the road, to icy receptions from former allies. Conrad Burns, under the Jack Abramoff scandal gun, stayed neutral on the partnership but still lost the November 2006 election to Jon Tester.

A hint that the industry-green “partners” stood alone comes from the fact that Tester waited over two years to introduce FJRA in 2009 – which in turn is even worse than the initial “partnership” deal.

FJRA’s wilderness component was vastly expanded, to 667,000 acres of big-W forever wilderness, plus another 300,000 or so permanent restricted-use areas, functional as wilderness except in name.

FJRA further shrunk the BDNF “suitable” area to a microscopic 70,000 acres of “pilot initiative” harvest over 15 years on the B-D. That’s a puny, insulting 4,667 acres a year.

Still, it’s five times the 800 annual treated acres from 1998 to 2008, which is outright criminal considering the hundreds of thousands of acres of bug-kill that simultaneously swept the BDNF. What the heck – are the partner mills hoping it will keep them in business long enough to pay off their mill mortgages?

Even more insulting, FJRA’s only legal protection for projects is a requirement that the inevitable lawsuits be heard first in the Montana federal district court, with the judge required to consider what is called a “balance of harms” under language in the existing 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act.

FJRA does nothing to block all-but-guaranteed litigation from non-“partner” Greens. What if the “pilot initiative” fails? The mills fail, jobs disappear, forests burn – but the wilderness gets designated first, and stays forever.
Forest Jobs and Recreation, my eye. The “partners” should be selling Lake Missoula frontage.

Greens can use, enjoy and take care of their existing wildernesses, maybe a bit more, to lock up and/or burn down as they see fit.

But the rest of America’s public lands must be returned to the rest of America, for the use, enjoyment and employment of the millions of citizens who don’t support radical environmentalism.

Before even one square millimeter of new Montana wilderness is permanently designated – and a few spots honestly deserve designation – Montana’s Congressional delegation must ensure that non-wilderness areas are legally returned to multiple-use management through land designations that are A.) Equally as permanent, and B.) Backed by serious litigation reform.

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