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Montana’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act again came close to passage last month. The bill aimed at creating jobs and improving forest management enjoys strong support in Montana and growing support in the U.S. Senate.

But as FJRA gains momentum, opponents appear to be shifting tactics. Because so many Montanans have united around FJRA’s collaborative approach to creating jobs and resolving national forest conflicts, outright opposition has become politically imprudent.

So we now hear proposals to change the forest jobs bill by requiring completion of the logging and thinning before resource-protection provisions take effect. Known as “trigger language,” this suggestion is a red herring — a made-in-Washington poison-pill provision that Congress has rejected time and again as unworkable.

In other words, if you can’t stop FJRA on the merits, attach a provision that would effectively kill it.

Trigger language is borrowed from epic forest fights of the past, the same fights that many of us have left behind. The many Montanans who’ve had a hand in writing FJRA are focused on Montana’s future, not its past.

We want a future that guarantees 100,000 acres of timber harvest over 15 years. We want a future where forest restoration projects are judged in court not just by short-term impacts to the land but also by the long-term benefit to the land. We want a future that ensures our clean water and wildlife won’t be held hostage by partisan politics. FJRA aims to advance these solutions now instead of wasting more time fighting over trigger language.

For decades, Montanans fought to a stalemate over how to manage our national forests. Some wanted more logging, others more designated wilderness. Off-road-vehicle enthusiasts wanted more places to ride, while hikers pushed for more areas closed to machines. No interest group or industry in Montana has enough clout to overwhelm the others, but they all have the ability to say no.

Frustration is what brought together Montanans from diverse interests together in communities from Troy to Seeley Lake to Deer Lodge and beyond. We knew we could do better than the unacceptable status quo.

We found to our delight that the common ground was bigger than anyone had imagined. It turns out loggers like to hunt and fish as much as anyone. Wilderness wanderers need paychecks, too. We all need clean water. Most Montanans use national forests in several ways.

By talking, we learned that many things that people and groups want from the forest aren’t mutually exclusive. We also found not everything should boil down to partisan politics. Also, it turns out we don’t have to agree on everything to agree on many things.

We found agreement in collaborative proposals for forest management in the Yaak, the Blackfoot-Clearwater region and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National forest. The proposals are tailored to specific areas but include a combination of timber harvest, forest restoration, recreation — motorized and non-motorized — and wildland protections.

The agreements strike balance. Fewer than 45 miles of roads or trails would be closed to motorized vehicles under FJRA — leaving thousands of miles open to off-road vehicle enthusiasts. In fact, for the first time, FJRA would establish permanent recreation areas for snowmobilers.

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And by working together, we developed trust in one another. Trust was the catalyst for FJRA. Trust holds us together and creates hope for the future.

That trust translates into a commitment by a broad coalition of Montanans to continue working together in our communities, in court when necessary and in the forests — well after this forest jobs bill becomes law.

Anybody who tries to undermine this trust creates peril for Montana’s struggling timber industry and the good jobs it provides. FJRA will create logging and forest-restoration jobs. Trust the leaders of our timber industry when they tell you that.

Loggers, hunters and anglers, business owners, wilderness users, community leaders and so many others united behind FJRA are working on far more than a piece of legislation. We’re working to create a better future for Montana.

Won’t you join us? We welcome your support.

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Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, Gordy Sanders of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, and Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation represent several of the partner businesses and organizations within the Montana Forest Coalition (www.montanaforests.org).

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