Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is the first step toward dissolving 100-plus years of comprehensive national forest management acts and regulations. While there are many Montanans who welcome this, I, for one, do not.
Choosing selected interest groups to create a management plan for any national forest, calling it a collaboration and then trying to find a way to get it through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to include in an Omnibus Bill so as not to be scrutinized by the rest of Congress is politics as usual. I thought Sen. Tester was not going to buy into such politics and now, here he is the leader behind it.
National forests are public lands to be managed for a variety of benefits. Those benefits are not just for the people within the locale of the particular national forest or those who make a living through the wood products industry. Nor are the national forests of Montana just for the benefit of Montanans. They benefit our nation as a whole through opportunities for sustaining healthy watersheds and ecosystems, enjoying scenic beauty and wilderness, creating a myriad of recreation activities that sustain economies, providing wood products and much more.
Allowing a chosen few interests to decide how and which parts of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Three Rivers and Lolo National Forests will be managed without even including the natural resource professionals of the Forest Service, who manage those lands, turns our public national forests into “regional interest forests.” If Tester’s bill were to pass, it will no doubt set precedent for the creation of other regional interest forests throughout the United States. Forty-two of 50 states have national forest lands administered by the Forest Service.
Tester’s bill states that one of its purposes is to reduce gridlock and promote local collaboration in national forest management. Rather than creating this end run around the agency ascribed to manage these lands, begin with including the natural resource professionals of the Forest Service at the collaborative table to find a means to do this without compromising the integrity of the national forest system as a whole.
Send this act back to the drawing board. National forest lands are public lands not just for a few selected interest groups of Montana or any other state.