PRO: Sen. Tester's Montana bill is a true collaborative effort

  • Bruce Farling


When Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act last July, he did something that is all too uncommon in today's political world. He kept a promise.

He'd told conservationists, loggers and recreationists that if they could reach agreement on contentious issues involving public lands -- including wilderness designation, deciding where logging and habitat restoration is appropriate, and, most importantly, getting popular support for their ideas -- he'd introduce a bill to help implement their vision.

That's exactly what this landmark legislation does. It takes the hard work of people in the Yaak country of northwest Montana and in the Seeley Lake and Blackfoot regions north of Missoula, and of recreationists and those who make a living around the sprawling Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in the southwest corner of the state, and it packages it into a measure that:

  • Protects 670,000 acres of some of Montana's finest wildlands as wilderness and another 300,000 acres as national recreation areas;
  • Aids local mills by directing the Forest Service to do some sort of mechanical removal of vegetation for 10 years, through commercial logging, thinning or post and pole sales, for instance. This would affect extremely small portions of the Kootenai and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests -- about one-quarter of 1 percent in one year. The value of the trees removed will be re-invested in the forest -- used to help restore damaged habitats.

The bill also creates new partnerships with the Forest Service by ensuring that the agency works first with citizen groups on where and how these restoration projects will take place.

Is the Tester bill a good bill? Well, polling indicates that more than two-thirds of Montanans think so. Montanans are especially pleased because it came about because people with conflicting interests worked out their differences. Sherm Anderson, who owns a mill in Deer Lodge and helped develop some of the ideas in the measure, is a leading timber spokesman. He once opposed wilderness designations. But not now. Sherm regularly remarks to me: "Sometimes I can't believe how far we've both come." I tell him, it's about time.

Of course, the bill has its detractors. Some of them seem threatened by the prospect of people working together. They fear that cooperation will dilute the shouting and intimidation-by-litigation coming from the polar extremes in debates over land management.

Especially disappointing has been the small band of environmentalists who complain that the bill was developed secretly and they were shut out. Hardly. The bill results from ideas discussed for nearly four years in hundreds of face-to-face meetings, including with local government, conservationists, recreationists, ranchers and others.

As a proponent, I have been at many of these meetings. We explained our ideas and sought advice for improvement. Sen. Tester did the same, and he changed the bill based on what he heard. And that effort continues. The proposals embodied in the measure have been in the press, on the Web and detailed in publications for nearly four years. They certainly haven't been kept secret.

The only people "shut out" of the process were those who early on chose to be excluded. They attacked Sen. Tester, his bill and its supporters in blogs, e-mails, the media and in name-calling newspaper ads. Their message has been clear: They will never support legislation that accommodates timber interests or that runs counter to their self-righteous view of how public lands should be managed. Their approach can best be seen in their years of redundant legal challenges to the Forest Service.

The only contribution these opponents have offered is invective and "our way or no way" indignation. The environmental critics have lectured and patronized us, but they have never contacted me or other proponents and offered to sit down and explore common ground. I believe that's because they don't accept the basic premise of this bill: Everybody must get something.

Meanwhile, many others have had their say. That's why Trout Unlimited, the Montana Wilderness Association and the National Wildlife Federation -- which collectively have nearly 15,000 grassroots members in Montana -- have been joined by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, The Wilderness Society, American Rivers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and other conservation interests in supporting the bill. That's why rural and urban county commissions support the measure, as do timber associations, ranchers, motorized and non-motorized recreationists, unions (including Montana's largest), business people, legislators, Montana Democrats Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Sen. Max Baucus and former Montana Republican Gov. Marc Racicot.

The support for the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is unprecedented. All it took was open-mindedness and civility. Now what's wrong with that?

Bruce Farling is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( He is executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited in Missoula, Montana.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Senator Tester's bill
Michael Garrity
Michael Garrity
Jan 14, 2010 04:39 PM
Bruce Farling praised Senator Tester for keeping his promise to the loggers and Farling's group. What about the promise Senator Tester made to protect all roadless areas? Bruce Farling forgot to mention this broken promise.
What You're Not Being Told
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Jan 15, 2010 10:28 AM
Mr. Farling appears to have evoked some selective memory techniques when he wrote this piece.

His statement that "the environmental critics have lectured and patronized us, but they have never contacted me or other proponents and offered to sit down and explore common ground" is false.

The fact of the matter is that shortly after Mr. Farling and his "Beaverhead Partnership" unveiled (in April 2006) the proposal crafted behind closed doors by Trout Unlimited, MT Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and 5 timber mills, a host of (what Bruce refers to as) "environmental critics" contacted members of the partnership and sat down and explained our concerns with their proposal. The US Forest Service, who was also not included in the drafting of their proposal, also expressed concerns with the proposal once it went public.

For example, the WildWest Institute's biologist and myself met with a representative of MWA a few months after their proposal was released to the public, in the summer of 2006. Funny, but at that meeting 3 1/2 years ago, we brought up many of the same concerns with the partnership's proposal that the top US Forest Service official in the land brought up during last month's Senate hearing on Tester's S1470. Sure, the MWA rep took some notes at the meeting and promised that our concerns, ideas, etc would be given full consideration and passed along to other members of the Beaverhead Partnership...but we heard nothing back and we saw none of our concerns addressed and none of our ideas incorporated.

This is a similar experience that many advocates and organizations who are part of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign have had when dealing with members of the Beaverhead Partnership, and now more recently Senator Tester's office.

What also is quite funny is that Mr. Farling must know about some of these meetings. How do I know this for sure? Well, Mr. Farling's powerpoint presentation on their partnership proposal and S1470 includes a slide, designed to demonstrate how many folks the partnership has met with, which clearly lists groups such as the WildWest Institute and Friends of the Bitterroot. There are many other groups and concerned citizens that met with Mr. Farling's partnership and expressed concerns about their proposal, but all these concerns, to date, have been largely ignored and dismissed.

I also wonder why Mr. Farling would state in this piece that: opponents of the bill "seem threatened by the prospect of people working together. They fear that cooperation will dilute the shouting and intimidation-by-litigation coming from the polar extremes in debates over land management.... Their approach can best be seen in their years of redundant legal challenges to the Forest Service?"

The fact of the matter, as Mr. Farling is certainly aware, is that groups like WildWest and FOB (and really all members of our Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign) have working successfully in open, honest and transparent collaborative processes across the region for about 5 years now. The fact of the matter, which seems to directly contradict Mr. Farling's statement above, is that on the Bitterroot National Forest there has been only one timber sale lawsuit in the past 7 years, while the Lolo National Forest there has been no timber sale lawsuits in the past two years.

Furthermore, Mr. Farling knows (or at least he should now) that the US Forest Service Northern Region ended 2009 with 300 MMBF of timber under contract. According to the USFS this is the most timber volume the USFS has had under contract in over a decade. This amount of timber, currently under contract, would fill 60,000 log trucks lined up end to end for over 500 miles. Unfortunately, lumber demand is down 55% and new home construction is down 70% so even though 300 MMBF of timber is under contact in our region, the logging companies aren't doing much logging.

I also thought it was quite telling that Mr. Farling appears to deal with the significant concerns with S1470 by simply ignoring them and employing a "shoot the messenger" strategy. That should speak volumes.

Again, the fact of the matter is that the same major concerns regarding S1470 have now come from: Undersecretary Sherman and the Forest Service, the Obama Administration, Senator Bingaman and the Senate committee staffers, the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign, Beaverhead County Commissioners, Defender of Wildlife, PEER, NRDC, Sierra Club, The Lands Council, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Watch and a host of others.

As readers might recall, Under Secretary Harris Sherman had this to say at the Dec 17 Senate Hearing regarding S1470:

"If the Committee decides to go forward with a bill, we would urge you to first, alter or remove the highly specific timber supply requirements, which in our view are not reasonable or achievable.

Secondly, we like to urge you to amend the National Environmental Policy Act related provisions, which in our view are flawed and are legally vulnerable.

Thirdly, we would urge you to consider the budgetary implications to meet the bill's requirements. If we were to go forward with S1470 it would require far greater resources to do that and it will require us to draw these monies from forests within Region One or from other Regions."

"'The levels of mechanical treatment that are called for in S1470 are likely unachievable and perhaps unsustainable."

"There is the likelihood that if Congress were to move forward and pass legislation such as we are talking about today, that other regions will want to do so similarly. Now, if that happens, my concern is that there will be somewhat of a balkanization that occurs between the different regions in the country. Those who are first in may get funded and those who come later may find there are less funds available. There will be certain 'haves' and 'have nots' that result from this process. Then in someways there is no longer a true national review, an effort to sift out what priorities ought to exist across the country."

Again, isn't it interesting that none of this makes it into Mr. Farling's piece?

These are hardly insignificant, trivial concerns. This provincial bill in Montana, if passed as written, would forever change the way America's national forests are managed, and not necessarily for the better. The fact of the matter is that many of these same concerns have been expressed about the Beaverhead Partnership proposal and S1470 since each was unveiled, yet Mr. Farling and his partnership keep pushing forward as if none of these concerns matter or even exists.

Thankfully, ow that S1470 is before the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee that is about to change, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

If anyone wants to learn more about what S1470, as currently written, would do, please visit:
Tester Wildlands Logging Bill
Paul Richards
Paul Richards
Jan 16, 2010 01:54 AM
Once a man who stood for principles, Farling has become a sycophant. His contention that Tester is honest concerning our public wildlands legacy is a bad, bad, bad joke.

In the 2006 Democratic primary campaign for U.S. Senate, Tester specifically promised, in the presence of his wife, Shar, and his son, Shon, that he would "Work to protect all of Montana’s remaining roadless wildlands." (Details at: )

Northern Rockies wildlands are the only place in the lower 48 states where all native species and wildlife remain! These are our public wildlands, belonging to all Americans.

The Tester Wildlands Logging Bill strips away the protection of these public wildlands currently provided by the Clinton Roadless Rule, the Obama Roadless Initiative, and Senator Lee Metcalf’s incredibly farsighted Senate Bill 393.

By fragmenting the Northern Rockies Ecosystem, the Tester Wildlands Logging Bill is a direct assault on the scientific principles for which so many dedicated citizens have worked so hard for over a century.

If the Tester Wildlands Logging Bill passes: Secluded, rare, threatened, and endangered species will be adversely impacted, particularly in the Kootenai National Forest and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.

The “wilderness” areas in the Tester bill are fragmented and unconnected islands of largely “rocks and ice,” with NO biological integrity and NO potential for sustaining biodiversity. These minimal “wilderness” designations in Tester’s bill fail entirely to protect different elevation habitats and their dependent species with core areas, buffer zones, and connecting biological corridors.

By forcing costly, taxpayer-subsidized, unsustainable, industrial-scale logging upon our public wildlands -- lands that only contain sub-marginal timber -- the Tester Wildlands Logging Bill would irrevocably harm essential habitat of species that characterize the wild nature of the northern Rockies.

Species such as the: Gray wolf, bull trout, cutthroat trout (Montana’s official state fish), otter, mountain goat, mountain sheep, elk, arctic grayling, northern goshawk, boreal owl, pileated woodpecker, ferruginous hawk, Montana vole, sage thrasher, wild bison, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, pine marten, fisher, lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bear (Montana’s official state animal) are all at risk.

Farling (a person who has NEVER been active in ANY pro-wilderness organizations) and his ilk cut a clandestine deal with four timber corporations that hands them more than $100 million in taxpayer's money. As an afterthought, the deal cynically “protects” a mere 10 percent of our priceless public wildlands legacy!

Farling then peddles his secret deal to a very gullible politician with a tragically short memory who really should know better.

As a result, people get upset.

People get upset because the secret deal sells out 90 percent of our public wildlands legacy; a legacy that provides our farms and communities with pure water, our freezers with healthy meat, our lungs with clean air, and our spirits with rejuvenation only Nature can provide.

People get upset because WE WANT to live in a healthy and functioning ecosystem with wolves, bull trout, cutthroat trout (Montana’s official state fish), elk, lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bear (Montana’s official state animal).

People get upset because we voted into office a politician that we actually believed was an honest farmer who promised to protect ALL of our few remaining roadless wildlands.

People get upset because we don’t want to pay more than $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to destroy the priceless public wildlands legacy that is the very reason we so enjoy living in Montana.

In his article, Farling is clearly pissed off, because the Tester Wildlands Logging Bill has many detractors.

Well, what else can you possibly expect if you underhandedly try to dictate public lands policy from behind-the-scenes, with NO scientific input, NO comprehensive legal review, NO compliance with environmental laws, NO adherence to proper forest management, NO agency review, and NO public involvement???

Bruce Farling's Tester Bill Oped
Liz Sedler
Liz Sedler
Jan 19, 2010 12:22 PM
Bruce, I write to express my extreme disappointment in your attack on long time conservationists and TU's support for this egregious piece of legislation.

I am shocked that that you would characterize the 50 or so groups and numerous individuals who helped compose and/or signed onto the LBPW Position Paper opposing the Tester bill, as “a small band of environmentalists” who practice “intimidation-by-litigation” and are “the polar extremes”, e.g., obstructionists, and, last but not least, “crybabies”.

Is it TU’s policy to openly attack local and regional grassroots conservationists when there is disagreement?

As you must be aware, I and many others who oppose the Tester bill have worked tirelessly within the system for more than 20 years to change the way the Forest Service manages our publicly owned forest lands in order to protect and restore native species habitat including fish habitat. A major focus of my own efforts for the last 15 years has been to get the Forest Service to adopt access management criteria for the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly bears that will lead to their long term survival and recovery.

According to USFWS, the Cabinet-Yaak grizzly population has been in steep decline for several years. The current total population estimate is a maximum of 40 bears: 20-25 in the Yaak and 10-15 in the Cabinets. Please aware that the Tester bill would have a huge impact on the tiny grizzly population in the Yaak. The bill’s mandated logging of 30,000 acres over ten years in the Yaak no doubt would push this tiny grizzly population over the edge - to the point where its recovery would not be even a remote possibility.

Also, have you considered the impacts of the mandated logging on native fish species such as sensitive Redband and Westslope Cutthroat trout that still survive in the Yaak and its already degraded tributaries?, or the impacts on native fish in the BHDL from the mandated 70,000 acres of logging there?

I have always had a great deal of respect for Trout Unlimited and applaud your efforts on behalf of native fish. I fail to understand how TU can justify supporting this bill when its implementation would clearly have enormous impacts on aquatic habitat and fisheries in the unroaded areas that are targeted for “release” to logging and/or motorized recreation in the bill, in addition to the 100,000 acres of mandated logging in already degraded areas.

When the deal (with the devil) perpetrated by the “BHDL Partnership” came to light a couple years ago, I was surprised and disappointed to see that TU was one of the groups involved. What was it that prompted TU to get engaged in Wilderness deal-making that includes releasing huge quantities of intact fish and wildlife habitat, to industrial logging and motorized recreation? Does that not conflict with TU’s mission?

Like the BHDL deal, the "collaborative" process that produced the Yaak component of S1470 (the so-called "Three Rivers Challenge") was carried out behind closed doors. It was engineered by the Yaak Valley Forest Council, namely Rick Bass and Robyn King, neither of whom have a background in conservation work. It is apparent that they have little or no knowledge of the science regarding grizzly and other species’ habitat needs and the adverse impacts of logging. Either that, or they choose to ignore the science in order to achieve their personal goal, which is to get something set aside as Wilderness in the Yaak no matter what the cost.

Bottom Line/ What They Got: the bill would set aside about 30,000 acres in the Roderick roadless complex - which is under no threat of being logged - in exchange for 30,000 acres of logging in the Yaak and intrusion into other roadless lands by motorized users. Not a “good deal” no matter how you look at it.

Two or three years ago, when it became apparent that the YVFC was actively engaged in Wilderness deal-making dialogue with local timber and motorized contingents, I and several other long time conservationists met with them. We tried to point out the pitfalls in the dangerous path they were headed down and dissuade them from continuing, or at least convince them to engage other conservationists in the dialogue. They refused to listen. Harsh words were spoken.
After that, whenever I asked for details about the “deal” that was in the works, I either got no response or a vague description of what was taking shape. The one thing that was clear was that their goal was to arrange a trade-off for Wilderness in the Yaak that would be morphed into legislation. The details of what they had agreed to came out only when S1470 was introduced. I was horrified, and continue to be horrified at the potential consequences of passage of this bill.
Again, I am very disappointed that TU played a role in formulating, and is now shamelessly promoting S1470. In the big picture, it will set a terrible precedent for future Wilderness legislation, and locally, it will almost surely mean the extirpation of the fragile grizzly population in the Yaak and degradation of other important native species habitat.

Instead, TU should be throwing its considerable weight behind a true, science-based Wilderness/Restoration bill – HR 980, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Liz Sedler
Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Thanks Bruce
Jan 22, 2010 01:09 PM
I think Bruce is right on. You greenies want it all, and the timber beasts want it all. You get your funding because you sue, you litigate, and you won't compromise. That's what's wrong with America. I applaud Tester and I applaud TU, MWA, and MWF who pulled their heads out of their arses to sit down and work TOGETHER with the timber beasts and to keep jobs, and to protect wild places. Otherwise. . .my Montana becomes your California.
Tester's Logging Bill
Jan 22, 2010 01:46 PM
In Montana we have groups that one would swear were formed under the Bush Administration. Groups that call themselves on thing yet their agenda are just the opposite. By simple examination we have a group called Montana Wilderness Association – one would presume that they would be formed to protect the last best places’ wild lands – nope – just the opposite. Then there is another group that professes to put the protection of watersheds, riparian areas and water quality first –Trout Unlimited helped craft this very destructive secretive logging bill that flies in the face of common sense regarding the protection of healthy waters. And then there is Montana Wildlife’s collaboration with National Wildlife Federation to support the logging mills and the motor heads over wise land use that protect and enhances wildlife and their habitats. And on it goes. This Logging Bill deserves to go nowhere, to die a quick death.
Sen Tester Bill
Larry Campbell
Larry Campbell
Jan 23, 2010 02:12 PM
Hello Bruce,
If your claim, "The only contribution these opponents have offered is invective.." is true, you haven't been listening or reading.
Here is some more factual information.
Tim Baker's additional Montana Wilderness Association testimony to the Senate Hearing included the following:
West Big Hole (two units, 44,084 acres total)
    “The Partnership strategy proposed a contiguous 92,800 acres of wilderness…Senator Tester has cut the acreage by approximately 50,000 acres and created north and south wilderness units, surrounded by a West Big Hole National [permanently motorized] Recreation Area.”

West Pioneers (two units, 25,742 acres total)
    “The original Partnership strategy contained 34,000 acres of wilderness, out of approximately 150,000 acres contained in the West Pioneer WSA, and did not include any release from WSA status…over 8,000 acres of wilderness were cut from this proposal, the wilderness was bifurcated into two discrete units, those areas were surrounded with a West Pioneer [permanently motorized] Recreation Area, and the entire area was released from WSA status.”

East Pioneers
    “Senator Tester dropped approximately 14,000 acres [from the Partnership proposal]

As you can see, the compromise 'Partnership'proposal that you helped forge has been significantly compromised by Senator Tester.

Every change of the many changes in wilderness boundaries from the Partnership to the Tester bill was a loss of wilderness.

Approximately 150,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas are explicitly released from WSA status while approx 75,000 acres of WSAs are protected as Wilderness by Tester bill.

At what point of compromised wilderness would you let go of the tiger you have by the tail? You haven't let go yet, which I find astonishing. If it gets further compromised by the Senate committee, which it likely will, will you let go? Do you have a bottom line where you can still fish for suckers and bottom feeders, but beyond which you will not go?

This isn't invective. This is facts and accountability to the mission of conservation.

USFS Chief Emeritus: Tester bill "flawed, inappropriate, less than fully informed"
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Jan 25, 2010 08:57 AM
Jack Ward Thomas, chief emeritus of the U.S. Forest Service, had a guest column in today's Missoulian about Senator Tester's logging bill. You can read it here:[…]11df-baa0-001cc4c03286.html

Mr. Thomas clearly expresses many of the same exact concerns about Sen. Tester's bill that have been expressed for months by members of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign. See:

These concerns have been completely ignored by Mr. Farling, Senator Tester's office and supporters of the Beaverhead Partnership. Will that ever change? Will people like Mr. Farling actually begin to address some of these serious concerns coming from people who clearly are experts in national forest policy?

Specifically, Mr. Thomas stated that Senator Tester's "approach is flawed, inappropriate, less than fully informed, and has implications for the management of the entire national forest system. It should be debated in that context."
Jan 25, 2010 01:11 PM
I’ll be pleasantly shocked if we ever get a reply to any of the
questions or issues raised to Farling. Quid-pro-quo negotiators
generally refuse to engage with anyone outside their select group. If they had any notion of accountability, they wouldn’t have made the agreements they’ve made.

Which is not to say we should stop asking the questions.
Matthew Koehler
Matthew Koehler
Aug 10, 2013 08:02 AM
For the latest developments on Senator Tester's mandated logging bill, see:

Will Enviro ‘Collaborators’ Support Rep Daines Mandated Logging Bill?[…]/