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Tester proposes changes to forest legislation

by Western News
| February 10, 2010 11:00 PM

Sen. Jon Tester on Friday announced several proposed changes to his landmark Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.

Tester said the changes were based on feedback he received from thousands of Montanans since the jobs bill was introduced last July and referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Tester’s proposed changes to the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act include:

• Adding language to use mediated appeals, which often resolve problems without having disputes over timber projects go to litigation.

• Extending the timber and restoration portion of the bill, so if it is successful, the bill’s lifetime can be extended. Tester is proposing a provision that would require an independent committee to make recommendations to Congress on reauthorizing the forest components of the bill.

• Using a designation other than wilderness for the Highlands area near Butte, to allow its continued use for occasional military training in the area. As written, the bill would make an exception to the Highlands wilderness designation for military training, but many Montanans objected to the idea.

• Strengthening pilot language to emphasize that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is a pilot effort that, if successful, can be applied to other national forests.

• Making the restoration components of the bill stronger by adding time limits on when restoration projects need to be completed.

Tester also explained changes he and others considered but cannot make, such as adding trigger or “phase-in” language that would designate wilderness only on certain conditions. Tester said he brought the idea to the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, but was told such language would kill the bill.

Tester also noted that such language would have unintended consequences, such as possible lawsuits to prevent wilderness designation.

The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act had its first committee hearing in December. The committee will amend the bill before it can be considered by the full Senate.