Printed in the Missoulian.
When I was growing up in Montana, we had a vibrant logging industry with 30 active sawmills. A career in forestry was a promising one.
It’s a different picture today.
Timber harvests in Montana’s national forests are down 80 percent over the last three decades, largely due to excessive federal regulations and endless obstructionist tactics from fringe groups. Nineteen of our 30 sawmills have closed. Just this month, two of those remaining mills announced layoffs or cutbacks.
Demand for timber isn’t the problem today – it continues to grow as the housing market recovers. Our mills are operating at two-thirds capacity. At a recent forest products roundtable in Missoula, I asked, “Why?” They told me it’s not complicated: they can’t get enough logs from our national forests.
The results are dire and unacceptable. Gone are many good-paying jobs that once kept food on the table for thousands of Montana families. Many forest counties face double-digit unemployment rates and high poverty rates. With a limited tax base, these counties must also cope with uncertain funding for schools and roads. Even worse, our forests are increasingly vulnerable to wildfire.
We need comprehensive timber reform to grow timber jobs, uphold the federal government’s promise to forested counties, and improve forest health across Montana. That’s why I support the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. This act will restore active forest management to all 10 of Montana’s national forests.
The legislation will create thousands of jobs in Montana, extend critical Secure Rural Schools stopgap payments to forest counties during the transition to more active management, and improve forest health across our state. It is strongly supported by many county commissioners, leaders in the timber industry, the outdoor recreation community, homebuilders, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation and a number of other stakeholders across Montana.
It also protects Montana’s wild places while streamlining the approval process for timber projects, including those that result from the laudable collaborative efforts occurring across our state. It gives the Forest Service the latitude to better manage our lands while establishing clear targets to help ensure positive results. And it discourages habitual litigation.
Though the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support one year ago this week, the U.S. Senate has failed to act on it.
I am a lifelong Montana sportsman. I grew up hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather, and backpacking in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. I firmly believe active forest management and preserving Montana’s unparalleled natural beauty and outdoor heritage can both be achieved through balanced, common-sense policies. The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act upholds this principle by addressing the systemic challenges in Montana’s national forests, while at the same time maintaining environmental protections.
I urge the Senate to consider this legislation so that no forest community in Montana is left behind. Washington owes it to the Montanans whose livelihoods depend on healthy forests and timber harvest. We should not let another day go by without meeting their urgent needs and restoring hope that a vibrant timber economy is part of Montana’s future.
U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is running for election to the U.S. Senate.
View the article online here.