Sen. Jon Tester rolled into Missoula Friday morning with a bit of news. His Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which he's tried unsuccessfully to push through Congress twice since introducing it in 2009, is now primed for round three. Tester's Senate colleagues last month attached the re-dubbed Forest Jobs and Restoration Pilot Initiative to the Interior appropriations bill for 2013—the kind of must-pass bill that Tester had hoped would carry his proposal through in 2011. The appropriations bill should go up for a vote in the Senate after the Nov. 6 election.
Tester made the announcement to a host of supporters in the President's Room at the University of Montana shortly before lunch. For over 30 years, he told the crowd, people in Montana have been fighting over how to manage our forests. "And through the decades of fighting, nobody won." What the FJRA did differently, Tester continued, was bring those people together and encourage them to compromise. Tester stressed the importance of passing his legislation, highlighting the jobs that the logging mandates in the FJRA would create and pointing to Missoula's smokey skies as evidence of the problems the Forest Service has managing massive wildfires.
Tester's FJRA would designate more than 660,000 acres of new federally protected wilderness in Montana and mandate thousands of acres of logging by stewardship contractors on the Kootenai and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests.
"I'm kinda like the frog that's been swallowed by the stork" and is stuck in its throat, Tester told the Indy after his address. "We're never going to give up. This is too good of a piece of legislation to give up on, and I think our chances are very good. We've been able to inform more and more people over the years how important this is to our forests, to our economy and to the overall health of not just Montana but the country."
The Great Falls Tribune last month reported that in a recent Public Opinion Strategies poll, 72 percent of Montanans said they supported Tester's legislation. When asked what will need to change this time around to give the FJRA a fighting chance in Congress, Tester immediately pointed to the election next month. "We're going to have a different representative," he said. "And I think that whether it's Kim [Gillan] or Steve [Daines], we'll have the opportunity to visit with them and talk about this bill."
Tester is in a hotly contested re-election race against Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg. The FJRA has become a major campaign talking point for the Democratic incumbent, and he's repeatedly accused Rehberg of working against the bill in the House—an accusation at the core of Tester's latest campaign ad, posted below. Odds are good the topic will come up again this Sunday when Tester takes the debate lectern alongside Rehberg and Libertarian challenger Dan Cox in Kalispell.