New bill helps forests

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With dysfunction in Washington, D.C. near an all-time high, it’s nice to see the Montana delegation help lead the way to a badly needed deal to help our federal forests. Last week, in spite of a four-inch “blizzard” in our nation’s Capitol, a deal was reached that will truly help Montana avoid another smoke-filled summer, and hopefully start bringing the health of our forests back from the brink.

Working with colleagues from around the country, Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines, and Rep. Greg Gianforte helped broker a compromise which provides a sane solution to the “fire borrowing” problem that has bedeviled the Forest Service for more than a decade. Under the old rules, the Forest Service had to “steal/borrow” money from management accounts to help keep up with ever increasing fire suppression costs.

The compromise was incorporated into the Omnibus Appropriations bill, passed by the House and Senate, and signed by the President. It was married with critical forest management reforms, including provisions to step up forest thinning and create fuel and fire breaks on our National Forests. It also fixed a glitch in the successful Good Neighbor Authority, to allow Montana Department of Natural Resources and other states to help repair forest roads as part of that program.

Critically, the bill also added a provision to reverse the disastrous impacts of the “Cottonwood” decision, which threatened never ending frivolous lawsuits and injunctions for needed forest management. On all these points, Sen. Tester was a lonely voice on his side of the aisle, constantly pushing his party colleagues to support these solutions. He worked closely with Rep. (and forester) Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, who came to Montana to see firsthand the pressing need for reform on our National Forests.

Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines and Congressman Gianforte consistently pressed the Majority Leader and Speaker to keep working to forge a compromise, working late nights and weekends for the past month to get the deal done.

The fire funding and forest management provisions in the omnibus bill are not perfect and obviously the bill itself isn’t perfect. However, our delegation did us proud by working hard to save our National Forests from both fiscal ruin from out of control fire costs, and their long downward slide in forest health. It won support, not just from Montana-based groups, but national groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and the Federal Forest Resource Coalition.

We look forward to continue working with all three of them to keep pushing for more needed reforms on our National Forests. Thank you Sens. Tester and Daines and Congressman Gianforte.

Chuck Roady is Vice President & General Manager of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber in Columbia Falls. He serves as the President of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition and on the Board of Montana Wood Products Association.

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