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Sen. Tester reflects on struggles of Forest bill

Philipsburg Mail of Philipsburg, Montana

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It's been an uphill battle for U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

Since its introduction in June 2009, Tester admits that S1470, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, has had its challenges."The struggle has been in educating folks out here in D.C. about the struggle we face in the West," he told this newspaper in an interview last week. What easterners and southerners don't understand, he said, is the limitations on federal harvests of timber has had some detrimental consequences."You know Mother Nature has a way of taking care of this herself and that was the impetus for the Forest Jobs Act. This is a pilot project with true bi-partisan support."

Without timber harvests the trees eventually die or are killed by insects and with the dry weather in late summer, and thus he said, wildfires are inevitable "For example," the Democrat from Havre continued, "Danny Inouye, (former Senator from Hawaii) God bless his soul, had to drive one time from Billings to, I think Cody, Wyoming, and after he did that he said to me, 'what are all those brown trees about?' Well, I told him that was beetle kill and from that moment on, he understood the problem and became a supporter."

The Senator pointed that the issue's three largest stakeholders are timber harvesters, environmental advocates and recreational advocates. He insisted that while bills could be written for any one of these stakeholders, only by rombining the interests of all three, is there any chance for meaningful legislation. And, he said, it cannot be done in Washington."We need on the ground collaboration from people like Sherm Anderson at the saw mill and (forester) Chuck Rhodes, along with people like (outfitter) Tom Francis and organizations like Trout Unlimited, along with snowmobile clubs and people that use the forest recreationally. If you can get those folks together and show that it works, then we can get it done."

The Senator added that he doesn't care whether the bill he created six years ago is passed, he's not tied to anything with his name attached."The truth is that it's been used as a political football but with this forest policy everybody can take credit and it's not all 22 forests in the United States, it's just those in Montana."

He said he still believes the best chance for bringing back the timber industry, and healthy forests along with it, lies in a pilot project like the one he designed, built from the ground up.

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Original Publication Date: March 26, 2015

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