Let's make a (national) deal


When I read the subhead of Jonathan Thompson's article "Wilderness by Committee," I inwardly groaned (HCN, 4/26/10). Thompson wrote: "Federal land protection is all about dealmaking." Here in Montana, we are being confronted with this kind of "dealmaking" in the form of Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the fruit of three separate collaborative processes. The dealmaking involved in the Tester bill would mandate timber harvest in some areas (including some roadless areas) in exchange for wilderness. It also includes provisions that would change the National Environmental Policy Act process and supersede agency jurisdiction over management practices. The collaborative processes that created it excluded some groups and individuals that would have brought a strong wilderness ethic to the table.

Thompson wrote, "These days, if you want to protect an area as wilderness, you'd better be prepared to come to the table and deal with an increasing number of stakeholders, some of whom cynically see wilderness as nothing more than a bargaining chip." While this may be a political reality, it is nonetheless important for wilderness advocates to pay attention to what they're bargaining away in exchange for precious wilderness acres, and to the ramifications their political compromises have for federal land management. The risk when the wrong kinds of compromises are made is that we will end up with "wilderness in name only," or wildernesses in which it is difficult to manage for wilderness character under the terms of the legislated mandate for protection.

As we move towards deciding how to manage these last parcels of wild lands found suitable for wilderness designation, the ecological stakes are high. Dealmaking needs to take the national context into account; in my mind, there is still some doubt as to whether this can be done at a local scale.

Talasi Brooks
Missoula, Montana

May 31, 2010 02:29 PM
Wilderness is under seige, just as tribal reservations have been in the past. A deal is made until some corporation, via the government finds a use for the land. Then it is broken and a new deal is made, with new rules, likely for a smaller, less economically attractive piece of land.
Historic opportunity in Montana
Gabriel Furshong
Gabriel Furshong
Jun 01, 2010 08:42 AM
It is incorrect to claim, as Talasi Brooks does, that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act would mandate timber harvest in roadless areas.

In fact, Senator Tester's wilderness bill - the first in a generation - would protect roadless ares by designating 670,000 acres of land as wilderness. These lands encompass key wolverine, elk, and grizzly bear habitat across Western Montana, including over 500,000 acres of Wilderness in southwestern Montana, an area that provides critical connectivity between Yellowstone and southern Idaho Wilderness areas.

The bill would also mandate some timber treatment, which is different from commercial logging and includes anything from pruning to thinning, on two national forests in Montana. These projects would prioritize lands that are already roaded and each one would be completed through stewardship contracting that invests timber receipts into much-needed restoration work on Montana's watersheds.

The "deal" that Brooks derides as somehow sinister has actually created an historic opportunity for mill owners, recreation groups, and wilderness groups to bury conflict that has stymied too many good timber and restoration projects and prevented any permanent protection for roadless lands in Montana for 27 years.

As a 5th generation Montanan, I'm backing Senator Tester's hard work. And so are 70% of my fellow Montanans according to recent polls.
Tim Border
Tim Border
Jun 02, 2010 08:36 AM
Thanks Talasi for your comments. What we have seen with Tester’s Logging Bill is some groups that profess to support wilderness actually are trading away (bargaining away) prime wildlerness lands for the appeasement of the timber and livestock industry. As a fifth generation Montanan I believe Montana is shooting its self in foot trying to hang on to the past; the destructive forces of the timber industry ( I worked for fives years for Plum Creek), and the livestock grazing practices on public lands that preclude wildlife such as bison and bighorn sheep. Instead we as a state should be envisioning what we want the state to look like in the next generation and the one after that. Clinging to the past will not work for the future of our state. Tester’s Logging Bill preserves the status quo, and fails miserable at leading us into the future. When you have local interests protecting their federally derived income vs. those that place other intrinsic values of the land the money interests will win every time. I too have some doubts about the local vs. national aspects of planning, especially when a select few are appointed god over the rest of us.
Low risk and high reward for MT's wildlands
Zack Porter
Zack Porter
Jun 03, 2010 01:04 PM
I take issue with the comments of Talasi Brooks. Senator Tester's bill specifically directs timber treatment to already roaded areas where restoration work is needed most. Meanwhile, it designates one million new acres of protected areas in Western Montana across three National Forests, in both Wilderness and special management areas.

The proposals that were combined to create the FJRA received strong input from dedicated environmental organizations - Trout Unlimited, The Wilderness Society, the Montana Wilderness Association, National WIldlife Federation, and other leaders in the conservation arena have endorsed this legislation as forward-thinking and trend-setting approach to public lands management.

The FJRA represents the future of land conservation in Montana. Diverse interests who were willing to find common solutions came together to produce a bill that does great things for our environment, and for our ailing economy.

In the FJRA, Wilderness is anything but a "bargaining chip"; rather it's one component of a broad, landscape scale vision for conservation - a vision that includes recreation areas for a wider range of passive and mechanized users, and which sees on-the-ground restoration work as a critical addition to traditional wildland preservation.

If deal making means high reward and low risk for our roadless lands, our economy, and a wide range of recreators, then that sounds like a conservation future I can live with.
Update on Tester's FJRA
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Jun 24, 2010 01:17 PM
Just this week the US Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved 26 bills that would establish new Wilderness areas and deal with other public lands issues all across the country. Those 26 bills were approved by the ENR Committee en bloc, by unanimous consent. Senator Tester's FJRA was not one of the 26 bill approved by the Committee.

HCN readers will recall that Senator Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA) is currently before this same Senate ENR Committee. Sometime in May 2010, the ENR Committee sent Senator Tester a draft revision of his bill, which his office shared with the collaborators, but refused to provide to anyone else, including the media. Once the media questioned Senator Tester about the ENR's draft he simply proclaimed it "Dead on arrival."

So now, on June 20, 2010 the Senate ENR Committee approved 26 bills dealing with Wilderness and public lands issues. All of these bills will likely become law in the upcoming Public Lands Omnibus bill.

Something I'd encourage Wilderness supporters to consider is the very likely fact that if Senator Tester and the collaborators would have accepted the ENR Committee's draft revisions when they were shared about a month ago, Senator Tester's bill too would have been approved by the Committee this week.

However, it's looking like the insistence from Senator Tester, the Montana Wilderness Association (whom Furshong and Porter work with) and some timber mills on mandated logging might have cost all of us the opportunity to designate over 660,000 acres as Wilderness and get some good restoration and fuel reduction work accomplished, as proposed in the ENR Committee's draft.

Some details of the ENR Committee's draft:

* It would protect over 660,000 acres in Montana as Wilderness. However, it doesn't undermine Wilderness by allowing military helicopters to land in Wilderness or ranchers to ride their ATV's in Wilderness, as Senator Tester's draft allows.

* It drops the controversial and unprecedented mandated logging levels on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests. It adds language requiring that any project carried out under the bill must fully maintain old growth forests and retain large trees, while focus any hazardous fuel reduction efforts on small diameter trees.

* It would also establish a "National Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative" that would "preserve and create local jobs in rural communities...to sustain the local logging and restoration infrastructure and community capacity...to promote cooperation and collaboration...to restore or improve the ecological function of priority watersheds...to carry out collaborative projects to restore watersheds and reduce the risk of wildfires to communities." Much of this work would be carried out through stewardship contracting.

For more info:

Tester's Response Poor Strategy

Collaboration in Tester's bill has predictable outcome

Tester unveils new draft of forest jobs bill