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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jul 16 2015

Rep. Zinke’s Forest Bill Leaves Out Conservation

With no input from Montanans, bill undermines local collaboration

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Montanans depend on and love our national forests. Our forests are the source of our clean water.  They are where we go to camp, fish and hunt. They are also the storehouse of natural resources, including renewable resources such as timber.

We owe it to each other, and owe it to the future, to make sure our national forests are well managed.

Recently, Montana’s Congressman Ryan Zinke introduced legislation he says would improve national forest management. That is a laudable goal, if you can meet it. Trouble is, this legislation comes nowhere near meeting it.

In January, more than 40 Montana timber representatives, conservation organizations, sportsmen, outfitters, and businesses wrote to Montana’s Congressional delegation with a very clear message: work together to improve management of our forests. Listen to Montanans and honor the hard work of Montana citizens in collaborating to improve forest management.

Unfortunately, Rep. Zinke’s bill was crafted without input from Montanans. No listening sessions. No town halls. But more importantly, no support from the key Montana stakeholders who worked for decades to improve forest management.

While Rep. Zinke says his legislation is about supporting collaborative efforts in Montana—which is a noble goal—the bill actually does the opposite. The Congressman’s bill re-writes the rules governing how decisions are made among diverse stakeholders on Montana’s resource advisory councils. Don’t like input from key stakeholders? No problem, just vote them down. That is not collaboration.

Moreover, Rep. Zinke’s bill lacks balance and fails to address the needs of multiple interests. A key premise of collaboration in Montana is to advance areas of agreement in ways that benefit all stakeholders. 

The diverse groups that wrote to Montana’s Congressional delegation in January urged an approach that balances conservation and restoration. But Rep. Zinke’s bill does nothing for either. Instead, it strips money from restoration, while creating hurdles to public input in decision-making. It’s an approach that picks winners and losers and will not bring Montanans together.

While Rep. Zinke’s bill falls far short, there remain plenty of opportunities for our Congressional delegation to improve forest management. Recommendations from the diverse stakeholders who recently wrote to the delegation include:

  • Build on the success of local collaborative efforts that have made real progress in the Treasure State, but are in jeopardy of faltering without real support from Montana’s Congressional delegation.
     
  • Address the agreed-upon priorities of all collaborative stakeholders to improve forest management, which includes protecting our backcountry and restoring wildlife habitat. This will make it clear that all interests are reflected, not just a chosen few.
     
  • Develop legislation in open, transparent discussions that provide a meaningful voice to our forests’ many stakeholders. That way, we can work out differences before being thrown in the Beltway sausage-grinder.
     
  • Address practical, real-world problems such as the long-term challenges with wildfire funding, which drain the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to provide other services, from timber to wildlife to recreation.

- John Todd, MWA’s acting state program director