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Lincoln County legislator busy with forest management

by Brandon Roberts & Western News
| January 21, 2009 11:00 PM

With the 61st Montana state legislative session under way, Lincoln County’s second-term representative Chas Vincent (R-HD2) has several proposed bills aimed at forest and fire management.

This coming Wednesday, five of Vincent’s proposals will be heard on the House floor.

“There is a good chance all five will get out of House with bipartisan support,” Vincent said. “These bills will ensure that due diligence is given to past reports to move forward.”

A member of the Fire Suppression Committee, Vincent has championed past legislation that allows state and local government a seat at the decision-making table.

The Sustained Yield bill, which passed last session, allowed the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to exceed its yield by 5 percent.

The DNRC has 735,000 timbered acres and is able to harvest 52 million board feet annually. The department is constitutionally mandated to put its timber sales on trust lands into the state school fund.

This year’s proposal, HB 140, would increase the sustained yield to 10 percent on trust lands.

House Bill 139 will allow DNRC to intervene any timber sale on public lands that the state views as a threat to public health and safety.

House Bill 44 would require DNRC to participate in forest management planning with the U.S. Forest Service.

“The state should have a say in where to reduce fuels,” Vincent said. “It is the state standing shoulder to shoulder with the feds and local governments.”

He said the Forest Service has a more restrictive bureaucratic process and is more likely to face court injunctions than the state.

Vincent is also carrying a DNRC appropriations bill. In the 2007 special session, $30 million was set into a special account for fire suppression.

“We were lucky last year and only spent $8 million fighting fires,” he said, adding that an average fire year costs the state $17 million.

He believes the remaining account funds would be better spent on proactive fire reduction projects and getting accounting and management teams on the ground before a wildfire becomes a larger threat. 

House Bill 42 had a hearing last week and faced no opposition. It would create a forest management program on all state Fish, Wildlife and Parks forested lands.

“It looks like this one is going to set sail and hopefully get passed,” he said.

Hearings begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28 in the House chambers in Helena.

“I will make sure that if any are here to testify that they will be heard,” Vincent said. “The world is run by those that show up.”

To contact Vincent, send concerns to Chas Vincent, MT House of Reps, Box 200400, Helena, MT, 59606. Testimony can be e-mailed to cvvincent@hotmail.com or call 406-293-1575.

Other bills of importance

The contentious stream and bridge access bills have resurfaced this session. Bridge Access, HB 190, has the support of Vincent.

“I may disagree with parts of the bill, but it is a completely better bill than last session’s and I believe it has the votes,” he said.

House Bill 74 is also supported by Vincent. It would authorize an archery season for mountain lion, bear and wolf. The wolf will hinge on delisting efforts, though the FWP has a wolf hunting season ready if state management does not receive a court injunction.

Vincent co-sponsored HB 78, which passed a second house reading, 97-3. It would allow the DNRC to move faster in response to forest epidemics, like beetle kill. It would increase the yield from 200,000 board feet to 500,000.

Vincent said the agency is still required to follow procedure, but advertise for only 10 days before they can move. He said this is advantageous because it can put to use timber that would otherwise fall prey to insects.

Vincent has also sponsored a tax abatement policy. With large companies closing their doors in the current economic climate, Vincent said the county commissioners could give a 3 percent abatement.

His hope is this would prevent the company from liquidating equipment and permanently closing down.