Zinke Touts Forest Bill During Town Hall

Timber litigation and foreign policy top Republican congressman's list of concerns

By Molly Priddy

EUREKA – During an hour-long town hall meeting with U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke on July 1, Eureka residents learned about what keeps Montana’s sole congressman up at night – Iran with nuclear weapon capabilities – and that his main legislative focus right now is moving his forest bill forward.

Zinke, a Republican from Whitefish in his first term, met with about two-dozen residents on Wednesday morning as part of a tour through Montana to discuss his forest bill and to discuss other challenges, ranging from federal issues to local concerns.

The forest bill, called the “National Forest Collaboration Incentive Act,” touched on the bulk of the residents’ local concerns; Lincoln County continually holds one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state, now that the logging industry there has nearly flat-lined.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, timber harvests on federal lands in Montana have declined 82 percent since 1987, and 27 wood and paper mills in the state have closed in the same timeframe.

“You live in a sea of timber,” Zinke told the crowd. “It has become very, very difficult to get at.”

Zinke said his bill could help free up some of the federal lands in Lincoln County for harvest, because it would require litigants who challenge U.S. Forest Service sales to post cash bonds along with the lawsuits, thereby preventing unnecessary lawsuits from halting timber projects.

Opponents to Zinke’s bill, including environmental group Alliance for the Wild Rockies, say the bill would cancel out the checks and balances Congress has already built into land management decisions.

The bill would also incentivize collaborative agreements about public land regulations by streamlining the regulatory process.

The bill, introduced to the U.S. House on June 3, was referred to the Subcommittee on Federal Lands on June 16.

Zinke also said the bill could help the Forest Service get back to creating policy to better maintain the forests instead of crafting it to avoid litigation. After a visit to the Glacier Rim fire, which has burned more than 80 acres in the North Fork in an old-burn patch from 2003, Zinke said the agency’s policies have left timber stands unhealthy and overgrown for fear of lawsuits.

“What’s burning is the standing timber that was not allowed to be salvaged,” Zinke said of the Glacier Rim fire. “Forest Service policy is part of why it’s burning.”

He also voiced his opposition to adding more Wilderness area to Montana, saying the existing Wilderness needs better care and access.

The congressman also touched on America’s foreign policy – “Our enemies don’t fear us, our allies don’t trust us, and the only thing that keeps me up at night is Iran having a nuclear weapon,” he said – energy potential in the U.S., his support for building a fence or two along the U.S.-Mexican border, and his support for the Trade Promotion Authority, which was signed into law on June 22.

He also said that conservatives were dealt two defeats in the U.S. Supreme Court with the decisions on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, and the Republicans need to take the presidency in 2016 to help fix the problems he sees with America.

“It’s fixable, it’s our problem,” Zinke said, indicating to the audience. “We all need to get involved.”