HELENA — Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., unveiled a counterversion of his logging and wilderness bill Thursday, reinserting mandates to log tens of thousands of forested Montana acres that a Senate committee earlier axed from its draft.
Tester said if the logging aspect of his bill is deleted, he will not support it.
“I will not support a cut-and-dried wilderness bill,” the senator said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “That was never part of the deal.”
Yet critics of the bill warned that the logging aspect of the bill may be too much.
“I don’t think it’s going to pass,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Helena-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
At issue is Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, a bill the senator released last July that requires logging on about 100,000 acres of Montana forests and establishes some 600,000 acres of new, permanent wilderness in the state, along with a new national recreation area. Tester’s bill was the result of an agreement worked about among loggers, Montana’s largest wilderness group and others with forest interests.
The bill has been before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That panel recently produced its own version of Tester’s bill, stripping the logging and forest restoration mandates.
Tester said that version was a “skeleton” and that his revised version released Thursday was “putting some meat” on the bones.
Neither Tester’s latest version nor the committee’s draft released last week is final, meaning changes could still be written into the bill.
Both Garrity and Matthew Koehler, of the Missoula-based WildWest Institute, who have been frequent critics of the bill, said the committee’s version is a better bill. “It seems like there is a path forward and the path forward is the Energy and Natural Resources Committee draft,” Koehler said.
Tester said members of his staff are in conversations “multiple times a day” with the staff members of the Senate committee, talking to them about the need to keep the restoration and logging mandates intact.
“Mine is a made-in-Montana bill,” he said Thursday, adding that it reflects the concerns of thousands of Montanans worried about beetle-killed trees, the loss of Montana’s logging infrastructure and recreational opportunities enjoyed by Montanans and people who vacation here.
“This is a forest in crisis,” Tester said.
The Montana Wilderness Association was one of the groups that worked on crafting the bill. Kristi Ponozzo, a spokeswoman for the Helena-based pro-wilderness group, said the association continues to support Tester’s efforts, including efforts to mandate logging.
“This is an important piece of legislation for Montana and all the carefully balanced components of wilderness, timber, restoration and recreation are what make this bill strong,” she said.