Great News for Montana Wilderness by Doug Ferrell
Many of you have heard the recent news that Senator Jon Tester’s logging and wilderness initiative has made a huge step towards being enacted as law. This is great news for wilderness lovers as well as a large coalition of various forest users. The bill has been included in a large Appropriations Bill that is virtually assured passage through the Senate and House, possibly in the next week or so.
The bill would create 20 new wilderness areas and more than double the number of Wilderness Areas in Montana, from 15 to 35. It would protect over 660,000 acres of wilderness. By comparison, the large Scotchman Peaks Roadless Area covers about 88,000 acres
The bill includes many tremendously valuable areas in the Big Hole, the Pioneers, the Snowcrest, as well as additions to the Bob Marshall and other existing wilderness areas. These are areas conservationists have worked to protect since before the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. The bill also includes some 40,000 acres of Wilderness in Northwest Montana, in the Roderick area in Lincoln County. This area includes some pristine rolling mid elevation lands that are uniquely underrepresented in the National Wilderness Preservation system.
The bill is also important to wilderness lovers because, if successful, it will greatly improve the chances for other wilderness bills to move forward – including the Scotchmans!
Although this is a great step forward, we need to recognize that this bill still faces some hurdles before it can become law. Senator Tester and his staff are working very hard to make this happen.
The bill has been renamed as the “Forest Jobs and Restoration Pilot Initiative”. Besides protecting wilderness and recreation areas, the bill also directs the FS to actively practice restoration forestry on selected lands in the Kootenai Forest and other areas, to reduce fire danger and improve stream quality and wildlife habitat, and create more jobs in the woods and sawmills.
The bill is the product of many people and groups working together to find agreement and solutions, to minimize conflict and get some positive things accomplished in our forests. Tester has held many public meetings and considered a tremendous amount of input on this bill over the past several years.
Of course it is easy to criticize an ambitious effort like this piece of legislation, and the bill has generated criticism from a minority of conservationists, as well as die hard opponents of protecting wild country. The good news is that credible polling shows that very large majorities of Montanans support this bill.
For more information see:
The Montana Forest Coalition’s website at http://montanaforests.org/
Tester’s website at http://tester.senate.gov/Legislation/foresthome.cfm
Montana Wilderness Assoc website at: http://www.wildmontana.org/campaigns/forest_act/index.php