The Western challenge 

Healthy Forest Summit to convene in Missoula

Montana and our Western neighbors enjoy summers consisting of fantastic weather, world-class recreation, and some of the most pristine scenery on the planet. There is another characteristic of summer that we share with our fellow Western states that isn’t as refreshing. Each summer brings the possibility of destructive wildfire. As Westerners, it is our responsibility to protect our homes, our forests, and our communities.

There is something unique about our way of life here in the West. Sometimes we don’t look often enough within ourselves to understand our uniqueness. Our distinctiveness comes from our communities whose core values are as deeply embedded as their determination and their pride.

Almost every Westerner has a vested interest and indeed desires to protect our public lands and scenic vistas. Our lands are the fabric of our very way of life. But the citizens of the West ought to be the driving force behind our land management solutions.

As Chair of the Western Governors’ Association, I am bringing a Healthy Forest Summit to Missoula this week. Governors from Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming will join me to choose the path we should take to improve the health of our forests and the health of our communities.

We will never forget the industries that built the West, and we are working closely with President Bush to bring common sense back to forest management. We must manage our forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires. We will achieve that goal by giving the right tools to the forest managers and private businesses.

Only three weeks ago, at the invitation of the White House, I represented Westerners on the South Lawn of the White House and listened as President Bush announced forest health legislation that would help revive good logging jobs to communities like Hamilton, Stevensville, Seeley Lake, and Frenchtown.

This is not just an economic decision. It is critical to the health of our forests and the safety of our residents that we remove burned timber and manage our green forests on public lands. Our national forests are national treasures—they need to be cared for.

Forest health is my top priority as Chair of the Western Governors’ Association. I will continue to work on behalf of all forest managers in the West to make sure that this issue remains top of mind for all elected officials. That is why we are gathering in Missoula.

We will attempt to make sure that streams aren’t choked with mud from eroding hillsides that have been denied a tree’s root structure. We will also examine how an old-growth forest can be managed to prevent catastrophic wildfire conditions that produce fire temperatures over two thousand degrees, and winds like a tornado.

We’re on the right track, and together we can bring common sense back to forest management. We can ensure the government is an active partner in promoting forest safety. We will encourage discussion of new forest management techniques and the latest environmental protection advancements. This conference is truly about the future, not about the past, because it brings together a diverse group of interests willing to work together.

I look forward to continuing this dialogue and starting new work. As Westerners, one thing we all share is a common bond in this land. It is our home. This is where we provide ourselves with both financial sustenance and spiritual stability.

All points of view and values must work together to maintain healthy forests and vibrant economies. That is why this conference is so important. It is a gathering designed to discuss the future of our forests. It will also address the role forests should play in providing this nation’s wood product needs, recreation destinations, and unmatched environment.

This goal will require an honest attempt to set aside our differences and recognize each other’s desires and needs. It is my sincere hope that this conference will be another significant step toward deciding the West’s future with respect to how we manage our timberlands. As the host of this conference, my goal is to find balance: Our forests can remain as pristine treasures, unravished by wildfire, while our economy is enhanced by a strong timber industry.

The Western Governors’ Association hosts the Healthy Forest Summit June 17–19 in Missoula.

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