Montanans should be excited about the prospects of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Job creation and increased economic activity are at the center of this visionary and collaborative legislation. Over the past several decades, more than 20 large timber mills have closed across the state including the mill in Belgrade. Recently, the Smurfit-Stone plant closed in Missoula, costing 417 Montanans their jobs. Montana has lost 70 percent of its timber infrastructure since the 1970s, and there are only 7,000 timber-related jobs left in Montana. The revised act will protect those jobs by requiring the mechanical treatment of 100,000 acres of forest with an explicit congressional review to examine more opportunities for treatment beyond the first 15 years.
Conservationists and those looking to preserve access for motorized recreation should be equally excited about the legislation. In the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, 6,500 miles of roads and trails, which have historically been open to motorized recreation, will remain open to those uses. At the same time, 670,000 acres of forest will be designated as wilderness. Places like Mount Jefferson in the Centennials and the Italian Peaks in the Beaverheads would be preserved forever, while access for snowmobiling in the Gravelly Range and off-road use in the Tobacco Roots will remain for all to enjoy.
This bill strikes the right balance. I praise Sen. Tester for his vision and hard work and remind Rep. Rehberg he has an obligation to represent the best interests of Montanans. One of those obligations is to steer this bill into law.