George Ochenski is fully committed to making the perfect the enemy of the good (see “The great unwinding,” Jan 28, 2010). Thankfully, Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus, and 70 percent of Montanans are committed to a very different goal: actually protecting wild country on the ground by getting a wilderness bill to the president’s desk.
The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is nothing if not ambitious from a conservation standpoint: 670,000 acres of wilderness and 70,000 acres of lands released for other management, which may include a conservation focus. Ochenski seems to prefer the 1988 wilderness bill, which had more wilderness acres (1.4 million), but also released over 10 million acres—that’s right, 10 million. Fortunately for all of us the collaborative projects that make up the Tester bill have taken us beyond the crude tradeoffs that defined previous efforts. Back in ’88 all we talked about was what would or would not become wilderness. Today, we’re talking about what should be wilderness, but we’re also talking about how to create jobs through landscape scale restoration and working with our local timber mills to get work done in beetle killed lands, especially near communities.
Tester just introduced more than 20 changes to the bill based on feedback from many different people and groups (see “Logjam,” page 8 of this issue), including the Sierra Club, Wilderness Watch and the Montana Logging Association. He is not just listening, he’s acting on what he’s heard. And that’s exactly how each one of the projects in Tester’s bill got this far—by listening and making appropriate changes. Each of these projects was the subject of countless presentations and seemingly endless debate in the media.
When all the dust settles and a bill is finally signed, the reality is that we will have protected Rock Creek, the North Fork of the Blackfoot, the headwaters of the Clearwater, and the blue ribbon trout stream of Monture Creek, among many other places. We will have more work getting done on beetle-killed lands and more citizens involved in the design of those projects. And we’ll have Tester and Baucus to thank for it.