It is time for everyone interested in outdoor recreation and productive natural resource management to get behind Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. We have been in a 35 year management stalemate since the RARE I and II (Roadless Area Review and Evaluation) studies of the early 1970s. The RARE studies set out all of the areas the U.S. Forest Service recommended for wilderness classification. Since then, those areas plus many others, including large buffer zones, have been managed to protect wilderness qualities. Any attempts at resource extraction have been met with expensive litigation.
A number of proposals have been worked on by thousands of us in the ensuing years. One of the most similar was the Lolo/Kootenai Accords in the early 1980s. A large group representing all interests, from miners and loggers to strong wilderness advocates, got together to produce a seemingly impossible document that would delineate all wilderness and general forest zones on the Kootenai and Lolo National forests. Despite original doubts, the task was accomplished after hundreds of hours of meetings. The only reason for failure was a new senator who didn’t want more wilderness and was out to make a point. He didn’t consider that at least 50 percent of the effort was put forth by his supporters. If that bill had passed, there would no doubt be more lumber mills still in business, operating under sustained yield forest management practices.
I have been an avid outdoorsman and hunter for over 55 years, starting work with the Forest Service as an assistant packer in 1964. I worked for a commercial outfitter, as well as having my own small outfitting business for a few years. Elk hunting and horse pack trips into non-motorized areas are my most cherished experiences as a Montanan. I understand how difficult it is to balance all opinions where public lands are concerned, and how important these lands are to private businesses in Montana.
Tester’s bill respects private business and puts job creation out front as a primary goal, along with setting aside those lands that deserve protection for diverse recreational uses. Fortunately, Tester understands both sides and does not consider them mutually exclusive.
We should all applaud the effort Tester and hundreds of citizens have put forth to create this bill. I would also like to commend Sen. Max Baucus for his support and Rep. Denny Rehberg for his efforts to understand the public’s concerns. Bipartisan collaboration and support for this bill is what Montanans expect and deserve.
It is time to end the stalemate and pass legislation for a more productive and certain future.