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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Nov 22 2017

Leave the Hatchet Buried

Montanans ended the timber wars decades ago. Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte now threaten to reignite them.

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Twenty-seven years ago, Montana timber workers, hunters, and conservationists signed precedent-setting agreements on national forest management. The San Francisco Examiner hailed the Kootenai and Lolo Forest Accords as the first “glimmer of hope” that “bitter enemies” could exchange “divisive hysteria” for “useful compromise.” 

It took boots-on-the-ground leadership to break through the polarized political discord that existed before the agreements were signed. That leadership came from mill workers, loggers, hunters, horsemen and women, conservationists – people who lived and worked in Libby, Troy, Thompson Falls, Superior, Seeley Lake, Trout Creek, and Bonner. 

Montanans were the first to bury the hatchet and end the timber wars.

Now, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte are pushing passage of bills that threaten to reignite those long-ago wars. These bills amass the fuels for future conflagrations, both in our forests and in our communities.

Sen. Daines is co-sponsoring a draconian, top-down bill written by a Wyoming senator, while Rep. Gianforte is supporting a similar bill written by a congressman from Arkansas. Both bills could easily be mistaken for wish lists from the timber giants of the 1980s.

They would pave the way for clear-cuts and road-building in pristine areas without environmental review or input from Montanans. These bills would jeopardize our wildlife populations, fisheries, and drinking water without doing anything to reduce fire risk, as the bills claim to do. 

These bills also ignore the history of grassroots collaboration between local timber companies, conservation leaders, and recreation interests, collaboration that has made our state a model for solving challenges around public land management. In 1995, for instance, Montana loggers and environmentalists in the Flathead wrote the nation’s first Forest Stewardship Act, later adopted as a national model for cooperation in national forest management. To this day, that bill benefits fish, wildlife, clean water, timber jobs, and our growing recreation economy. 
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In spite of what Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte claim, clear-cutting and eliminating environmental reviews and public input will do nothing to reduce fire danger.

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In 2007, Montanans again set aside differences to forge the Montana Forest Restoration Committee, which has grown into the statewide Montana Forest Collaborative Network. Just two weeks ago, this network brought forest leaders together from Sanders, Lincoln, Mineral, Ravalli, Missoula, Powell, Carbon, Madison, Beaverhead, and Lewis and Clark Counties to find ways to expand and improve forest collaboration projects and stewardship across our state.  

In 2009, Montanans in the Blackfoot River Watershed formed the Southwestern Crown Collaborative (SWCC), which was named one of ten pilot projects to receive federal funding through the bi-partisan, congressionally approved Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). SWCC has conducted forest projects that have created and maintained over 150 jobs, secured over $50 million in investments, reduced fire risk near communities, and restored tens of thousands of acres of forests, wildlife habitat, and trout waters. These projects helped the Forest Service meet management goals for the first time in decades. 

Montana’s long and rich history of collaboration, which has created thousands of forest jobs, helped lay the groundwork for our booming outdoor recreation industry. Collaborative forestry has also protected our fisheries and wildlands and allowed our big game populations to flourish. 

But this approach would fall by the wayside if Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte have their way.  The dishonestly titled “Wildfire Prevention And Mitigation Act” (S 2068), written by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and supported by Sen. Daines, cuts Montanans out of the conversation by:

  • Authorizing timber projects of up to 9. 4 square miles each, requiring no public involvement or analysis of impacts to fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.

  • Requiring the Forest Service to establish a five-year schedule, starting in 2018, that would result in doubling the acreage of logging and other restoration treatments regardless of funding or market conditions.

Rep. Gianforte has endorsed an even more extreme measure in the “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (HR 2936), written by Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman. HR 2936 would allow clear cutting of entire drainages, up to 46 square miles, without protecting watersheds and fish and wildlife habitat. It would also eliminate traditional public input on how our own public lands are managed.

HR 2936 takes dead aim at Montana’s cherished backcountry – the foundation of Montana’s recreation economy – by gutting the vital National Forest Roadless Conservation Rule and allowing new roads in the Crazy Mountains, Swan Range, Mission Mountains, Sapphires, Big Belts, and Bitterroots. 
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Call Sen. Daines at 202-224-2651 and tell him to withdraw his support of the Barrasso forest bill. Then call Rep. Gianforte at 202-225-3211 and tell him to withdraw his support of the Westerman forest bill. 

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In spite of what Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte claim, eliminating environmental reviews and public input and opening the door to clear-cuts will do nothing to reduce fire danger. In fact, clear-cuts typically regrow as fire-prone thickets that burn explosively in drought conditions. Montana experienced these kinds of fires in clear cut areas in 1995, 2000, 2003, 2007, and 2017. 

No doubt, Montana’s national forests need more restoration work. But reigniting Montana’s timber wars with inflammatory legislation won’t get that work done.

We encourage Sen. Daines and Rep. Gianforte to focus, instead, on bi-partisan solutions like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (S.1842), which would end the practice of “borrowing” from timber and recreation budgets to fight wildfire. If this bill passes, then we could finally manage major fires like we manage other natural disasters and allow timber and trail projects to move forward. 

Our congressional delegation also needs to focus on properly funding the Forest Service. Congress has sliced the Forest Service’s budget to the bone in recent years, prohibiting the agency from conducting restoration at a time when climate change and poor past management practices are taking a heavy toll. 

Loggers, hunters, horsemen and women, conservationists, and outdoor recreationists long ago buried the hatchet to create a new cooperative model of forest management and conservation. Let’s make sure that hatchet remains buried. 

Call Sen. Daines at 202-224-2651 and tell him to withdraw his support of the Barrasso forest bill. Then call Rep. Gianforte at 202-225-3211 and tell him to withdraw his support of the Westerman forest bill. 

- John Gatchell, MWA senior conservation advisor