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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jul 18 2014

Rep. Daines blocks Montana-made bill, calls for top-down approach

MWA asks Daines to support ground-up ideas to protect outdoor recreation and create jobs


In a statement released last week, Montana Wilderness Association Executive Director Brian Sybert expressed frustration with a recent letter from Congressman Daines, which aims to block Montana-made solutions to forest management challenges.

His statement reads:

This letter from Congressman Daines is troubling. When so many Montanans are saying 'yes, let's work together' it's very frustrating to hear Congressman Daines say 'no, I'd rather not.'

The Montana Wilderness Association works from the ground up. For nearly 10 years, we've worked with Montanans across the state on the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a Montana-made bill to protect wild country and create jobs—a bill that has strong support from over 70% of Montanans. 

We hope Congressman Daines changes course because Montanans are tired of gridlock on our forests and we're tired of gridlock in Washington D.C. 

The letter, which was also signed by 28 Republican members of the House of Representatives, asks the Speaker of the House to oppose all legislation from individual states that seeks to improve forest management. The purpose of the letter is to discourage compromise between the House and Senate on legislation aimed to improve forest management in specific states.  The letter also promotes a piece of national legislation titled the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526). This bill would remove the century-old, multiple-use mandate of our national forests and create vast “forest reserves” where aggressive timber harvest could advance without public input.

Effectively, the letter from Rep. Daines blocks several place-based bills with popular support in western states, including Senator Tester’s (D-MT) Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S-37), which passed out of Senate committee last year with bipartisan support, and Senator Wyden’s (D-OR) Oregon and California Land Grant Act (S. 1784). 

Senator Tester responded to the letter last week in an article published in the Bozeman Chronicle, stating that he was surprised by the Congressman’s opposition to Montana-made legislation and disappointed that Daines did not contact him before publishing a letter that opposes local ideas to improve forest management. Several organizations and businesses have also responded with frustration including Montana Trout Unlimited, which represents 3,400 members statewide, and Pyramid Mountain Lumber, the largest employer in Seeley Lake, MT.

The fact that Congressman Daines’ letter identifies H.R. 1526 as an alternative to Montana-made legislation is especially alarming to the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) because of the Congressman’s past failure to respond to our concerns about this legislation.

On January 6th, Congressman Daines attended a meeting in Bozeman with over 40 supporters of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, including 10 Montana businesses that depend on outdoor recreation. During that meeting, Daines explained that he could not support the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in its current form and that his priority was H.R. 1526. Several Montanans attending the meeting expressed concern regarding Daines' support for H.R. 1526 and the fact that he did not hold a single public meeting in Montana before supporting the legislation. These concerns were also the subject of an open letter from a wide-range of hunting and angling organizations that was sent to the Congressman in January.

In response to these concerns, Rep. Daines requested feedback to help improve H.R. 1526. He also expressed a desire to see this national bill revised and combined with local bills, like FJRA, to reach some type of compromise that would be acceptable to the House and the Senate. On January 30th, MWA took the Congressman’s suggestion and sent a four-page letter to him explaining our concerns with H.R. 1526 and requesting a response from his office.

Seven months later, we have received no response, and Rep. Daines' recent letter to the Speaker of the House makes it clear that he maintains a strong preference for H.R. 1526 over Montana-made legislation.

The Montana Wilderness Association has over 5,000 members across Big Sky Country and we have represented these members proudly for 56 years.  Over the last decade, we’ve worked with an incredibly diverse range of Montanans to build ground-up conservation legislation, including the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. This latest action from Congressman Daines imperils this Montana-made forest jobs bill and dramatically decreases the likehood of meaningful compromise on other pieces of local legislation as well.

We urge our Congressman to change course. It’s time to bring an end to gridlock on our forests and gridlock in Washington D.C.

Gabriel Furshong is the State Program Director for the Montana Wilderness Association.