U.S. SENATE, September 11, 2014 (press release) – Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh are pushing the U.S. Forest Service to put the 2014 Farm Bill to work creating jobs and improving forest health by increasing the timber harvest on National Forest lands.
Tester and Walsh, along with Republican Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo from Idaho, this week told Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell that while they appreciate the agency's quick work this year to designate lands for harvesting, it's time to responsibly fire up the chainsaws.
"National Forests are intertwined with our states' heritage and economies," Tester and Walsh said. "These timber harvest opportunities also represent a significant portion of available timber and will create good-paying jobs and allow for much-needed forest management. It is critical the Forest Service make good use of this new tool as soon as possible."
The "tool," which was included in the recently passed Farm Bill, allows the Forest Service to expedite timber harvest projects in areas nominated by a state's governor. Projects up to 3,000 acres with the support of local collaborative groups may move ahead even faster. To be considered for treatment, the designated forests must exhibit declining health, a risk of substantially increased tree mortality or an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety. Many of Montana's beetle-killed forests fit those criteria.
Earlier this year, Governor Steve Bullock nominated five million acres of national forest land in Montana for consideration.
"While we are encouraged that both of our states experienced slight increases in production in 2013, there is considerable room for improvement," the four Senators wrote. "We believe the effective use of the forestry tools in the Farm Bill is instrumental in ensuring responsible management of Forest Service lands."
In Montana, National Forests hold 60.6 percent of the state's timberland, and outdoor industries contribute more than $5.8 billion to the state's economy.
Other important forestry tools in the Farm Bill include permanent authorization of stewardship contracts, which allow the Forest Service to sign multi-year forest restoration contracts, and "good neighbor authority," which makes it easier to manage adjacent federal and state forestland. Taken together, the forestry tools in the Farm Bill represent the most significant change in national forest policy in over a decade.
Tester is also pushing for passage of his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act as another way to increase forest health by mandating logging on National Forest land, while setting aside some of Montana's most treasured lands. Walsh is a co-sponsor of that bill.
Tester and Walsh's letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell is available below.