Sen. Jon Tester’s new Forest Jobs and Recreation Act has lately been the topic of much discussion and some controversy among conservationists, recreationists and other stakeholder groups who all value Montana’s vast tracts of public wildlands. In the past, these different issue groups sat on different ends on the metaphorical table, and the granola-munching wilderness advocate wouldn’t be seen giving a Skoal-spitting logger the time of day. As a result, both causes suffered—big wilderness bills protecting the wild, undeveloped places which make Montana paradise failed time and time again, and the timber industry, for the most part a cadre of men and women simply out to make an honest living in the woods, has fallen to the point where many question if it will ever be a viable industry again.
Tester’s bill is a chance to step beyond the deadlock of the past and make real progress. Forest health, timber production, backcountry travel, motorized recreation and even biomass utilization—all of these are encouraged by Tester’s bill, and for the first time such a bill has the support of conservation groups and local timber producers. The bill may not be perfect, and will perhaps not please everyone; there will always be fringe groups on every side eager to yell “No compromise!” That said, the vision this bill presents—a vision of collaboration and integrated forest management—is one-of-a-kind, and I’m excited to see it succeed.Leo Brett Missoula