Congress ignores Montanans and proposes blanket Revenue Areas for National Forests.
Sweeping changes proposed for 14 million acres of Montana Forests without any public meetings.
Montanans made national headlines this summer when three in four surveyed agreed our state is the best place to live, putting us at the top of the list.
With our high mountains, deep valleys and ready access, it’s no wonder Montana is one of the best states to call home. From Granite Peak in the Beartooths to Rock Candy Mountain in the Yaak, our national forests are sources of clean water, wildlife habitat and countless memories for every Montanan.
Public lands are what make Montana the Last Best Place and we’re proud stewards of these places and the outdoor way of life that these places inspire. We’re also proud to live in a state where a handshake still means something and communities come together to solve problems, not exploit them.
Unfortunately, many politicians in Congress don’t share our values and very few recognize the importance of public input when it comes to managing our national forests.
Just before the government shutdown last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1526, co-sponsored by Montana Congressman Steve Daines. Since then, the bill stalled never receiving a hearing in the Senate.
But just last week as Congress returned from summer recess, House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-California) sent a memo to House Republicans detailing their September agenda. The memo proposes repackaging H.R. 1526 with a variety of other bills and passing the bill again.
That’s right. The bill was a bad idea the first time and it hasn’t made any progress in the Senate since then, yet politicians in the House are planning to pass the same bill a second time. We all know that Washington D.C. can be out of step with the rest of us, but trying to pass such a radical bill twice without hearing from those who hunt, fish and work on our national forests is indefensible.
Since Congress has been remiss in explaining HR 1526 to Montanans, here is a map that illustrates the sweeping changes that could occur to our National Forests if this bill becomes law. And here is a list of changes that we are most concerned about:
- HR 1526 requires at least half of all forested areas on all national forests, from Maine to Montana, to be designated as “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas.”
- In Montana, these “revenue areas” could include over 14 million acres, an area the size of Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts combined.
- Professional foresters would not oversee “revenue areas”. Instead, a “Board of Trustees” would make decisions that are exempted from public input and bedrock laws that protect habitat and clean water.
- These “revenue areas” could include Wilderness Study Areas, Inventoried Roadless Areas, and other conservation lands that Montanans have worked hard to safeguard over the decades.
- The bill would harm businesses that depend on intact forests.
- The bill would reduce revenues for rural Montana schools.
We believe Montanans might have something to say about such a radical change in the management of our national forests. If so, Congress doesn’t want to hear it.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed this lop-sided bill the first time without even one public meeting in Montana. No town halls. Not even a listening session. They didn’t even bother to create a map showing which lands could be impacted, so we did it for them.
The Montana Wilderness Association does not pretend to know all the answers, but we do believe this: top-down Beltway-bred “fixes” for Montana’s national forests are doomed to fail if they ignore the wisdom of Montanans whose livelihoods and quality of life are on the line.
Everyone agrees we need to do a better job managing our forests. That’s why MWA has invested years building relationships with Montana foresters, loggers, and sawmill owners, building solutions for the very real problems facing our national forests.
We’ve partnered with timber mills to build homegrown legislation that would increase timber harvest and protect watersheds. And we’ve invested time and money to help important timber projects overcome litigation, including the Ten Mile Watershed project near Helena, which made headlines just a few weeks ago.
Montanans don’t need a Washington D.C.-created ‘Board of Trustees’ or 14 million acres of ‘Revenue Areas’ to make sure our kids can enjoy healthy national forests long into the future. What we do need are more people working together here at home and a little help from our congressional delegation to pass reasonable ground-up legislation like the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
We live in Big Sky Country because hunting, fishing and camping are an essential part of what we call ‘the good life.’ We stay here because there’s still wild country to wander freely – something most other states lost long ago. And we raise families here knowing that our backcountry will be passed on to the next generation of Montanans as it is today.
Or will it?
In the end, that is up to us. Back in January, the Montana Wilderness Association sent Congressman Daines a letter detailing our comments on HR 1526, including our concern about a bill of this magnitude passing without any public process back home.
Now we are asking you to do the same.
Please contact Congressman Daines and encourage him to take a different approach on forest management that takes the views of Montanans into consideration.
John Todd is the Southwest Montana Field Director for the Montana Wilderness Association. He writes from Bozeman, Montana.