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Online Exclusive: Tester speech on Forest Jobs and Recreation Act

| July 30, 2009 12:00 AM

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester

Floor Remarks

Forest Jobs and Recreation Act of 2009

July 22, 2009

Madame President, I rise today to call on the Senate to take action on a bill I introduced last week in Montana: The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

The Forest Jobs Bill is the product of years of effort from Montanans who worked together to find common ground on how to best manage and protect our forests.

These folks—mill owners, conservationists, hunters and anglers, motorized users—have fought each other for decades.

As little as ten years ago, their differences were so great,  they were so much apart, that they could not even be in the same room together .

In the meantime, forest management came to a virtual halt.  A beetle epidemic swept through our forests, and not a single acre of wilderness was designated in the state.  Amid all the shouting, no one got what they wanted.  And Montana—and especially our forests—suffered for it.

With help from my fellow Montanans, we’re working to fix that.

That’s why I am enormously proud to carry forward their work in the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

Besides putting aside old battles, this bill will help protect our communities from a crisis on Montana’s forest lands.

And make no mistake about it: Montana’s forest communities face a crisis.  Our forest crisis demands action.  And it demands action now.

For example, in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in southwestern Montana, a shocking 660,000 acres of lodgepole pine are dead—killed by the mountain pine beetle. To put that in perspective, that’s just shy of one thousand square miles.

That’s a big figure, even for Big Sky country. And, the number is only on the rise.

What follows dead trees? Fire.

As I speak, 200 firefighters are battling a wildfire just a few miles southwest of Deer Lodge, Montana, in those beetle-killed trees.

And while no amount of work in the forests could put a stop to beetle kill, if enacted into law, this bill will help protect our communities and our water supplies from the threats of future forest fires.

On the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest, the bill mandates that an average of 7,000 acres a year be harvested. This work will happen in the context of larger stewardship projects aimed at restoring fishing and hunting habitat.

A council of local stakeholders will work with the Forest Service to help shape each of the projects, providing a voice to local folks in how we manage our forests.

The bill also addresses two districts on two other forests in Montana—the Three Rivers on the Kootenai and the Seeley on the Lolo. Similar work will occur in these places; big stewardship projects that are driven by local collaborations so the forests—and our communities within them—will be healthier in the end.

Let me be clear, this bill won’t just help restore our forests and their watersheds, it will help restore our communities. It will put people back to work in the woods—harvesting trees, rolling up roads, building bigger culverts for fish and tackling stream restoration projects.

A lot of mills have closed in Montana. We are at risk of losing more. And if we lose that infrastructure, we will suffer an even bigger loss.  We will lose the folks who know how to work in the woods.

Without their know-how, without the mills to process the byproduct of their work, we won’t be able to tackle head-on the years of work that lies ahead—work to restore the woods around our towns to make them more resilient to the fires that may one day come.

And of course, in Montana, we don’t just work in the woods.  We play in them.  That’s why Montanans asked me to put aside recreation areas in this bill.  And I did.  Lands that will be set aside for both motorized and non-motorized use.

Last, I’m proud to set aside some of Montana’s best hunting and fishing habitat for future generations with this bill.

The bill will keep some spectacular, wild places with the cleanest water you can imagine around for our kids and grandkids to hunt and fish and hike and camp.

Places like the Sapphires, the Snowcrests, and Roderick Mountain, and lands next to our world-famous Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Madame President, it’s a new day when motorized users, timber mill owners, backcountry horsemen, hunters, fishermen and conservationists all agree that it’s time to put aside differences for the sake of the forest. And for the sake of our communities.

I have reached out to folks in western Montana to get feedback on these issues.   I have held listening sessions throughout timber country open to any and all Montanans who want to work together on a common sense plan for our future.

Last weekend, I held a series of open meetings to announce the introduction of the bill and to hear more feedback.  I’ve invited Montanans to visit my website, tester.senate.gov/forest , to download their own copy of the legislation.

Folks can also click on color-coded maps to see for themselves exactly what we’re proposing.  And they can sign up as citizen cosponsors of this important legislation.  Already, hundreds of Montanans have signed on to make their voices heard and help put their shoulders to the wheel to get this bill moving.

I can tell you Montana is buzzing with excitement about this proposal.  Folks see it as an opportunity to work together to support this made-in-Montana solution to the conflicts that have stalemated us for far too long.

Working together, we will create jobs.

Working together, we will create new opportunities for recreation.

Working together, we will protect Montana’s clean water.

And working together, we will safeguard Montana’s fishing and hunting habitat for our kids and grandkids.

 Montanans are blessed to live among some of this nation’s finest public lands. We are willing to do our part to help wisely manage and protect these lands.  Now it’s time for Congress step up to the plate and do its part.

Madame President, I yield the floor.