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Column: Working together to put folks back to work in the woods

by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester
| April 23, 2009 12:00 AM

Everywhere I go in Montana, folks want to know what I’m doing in the U.S. Senate to create jobs and to boost Montana’s industries and small businesses. Our economy is the No. 1 issue on people’s minds right now. It’s the No. 1 issue on my mind, too.

I had an opportunity to talk about the challenges we face – and the opportunities we have – during a visit to Libby last weekend. More importantly, I got to hear ideas on how best to rebuild our economy from the ground up. Finding solutions takes working together and listening.

I don’t need to tell anyone that northwestern Montana is hard hit by this recession. This part of the state relies on the resources of our forests. It’s time to put folks back to work in the woods again.

That’s why after meeting with several timber industry leaders across the state, I sent a letter to Gov. Schweitzer last month. I asked him to use some of Montana’s federal stimulus money to create a revolving loan fund to keep our timber industry on its feet during these tough economic times.

Rep. Chas Vincent agreed to sign on to that idea and is carrying a bill in the Montana Legislature to create a fund.

It goes to show that rebuilding our economy and creating jobs in the woods takes putting politics aside and working together.

During my listening session in Libby, I heard from several folks who suggested opening the market to more wood products, such as biomass. I heard about the need to cut down on lawsuits or speed them up. I heard the need to make use of beetle-killed trees. And I heard – and saw – the power of folks who work together, put aside differences and even become friends.

But above all, I heard the call to create more jobs.

That’s why I voted for the stimulus bill, which I call the Jobs Bill. The Jobs Bill sets aside about $1 billion to create jobs in Montana. It also cuts taxes by an estimated $500 million in Montana.

I have pushed the Forest Service to ramp up funding for jobs and new infrastructure in places like Kootenai National Forest. And just last week, the Forest Service announced it is setting aside $48 million for Montana’s national forests. According to the Forest Service, that funding includes:

• About $7 million for roads in Lincoln County.

• $4.6 million more to improve roads in Sanders County.

• Nearly $4 million for forest thinning on the Kootenai.

• $1 million to get rid of slash on the Kootenai.

• $360,000 for forest maintenance on the Kootenai.

That’s real money that will create real jobs here at home. And it’s exactly why I voted for the Jobs Bill.

We have a lot of challenges in the future. But with challenges come opportunities to put folks back to work, and to make Montana a better place for us, and for our kids and grandkids.

I’ll always work toward creating jobs in Montana’s forests and putting rural America and middle-class families first. Working together, we can make it happen.

(U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is a third-generation farmer from Big Sandy and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee).