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Get the Lowdown on Tester's Logging Bil

by: Matthew Koehler

Wed Dec 15, 2010 at 18:04:05 PM MST

As you may have heard, Senator's Tester's "Forest Jobs and Recreation Act" was attached to the Senate's $1.3 Trillion (and growing) omnibus spending bill.

Basically, Senator Tester has managed to attached his bill to this completely unrelated trillion-dollar-plus spending bill, which, it's my understanding, must pass by this weekend, or the federal government will shut down and you won't get your that Christmas card from Aunt Donna in Monday's mail, among other inconveniences.

By far, the most comprehensive collection of documents, releases, quotes, charts and comments related to Senator Tester's bill is at the MT Lowdown blog of John S. Adams, the Great Falls Trib's capital bureau chief.  I'd encourage everyone to spend some time over there, review the information and share your opinions. This is an important issue.

My views views on this issue have been well documented over the past few years.  Many Montanans have expressed serious, substantive concerns with  this bill, including the mandated logging provisions, motors in Wilderness and turning some wildlands into permanent motorized recreation areas.  That's a major reason why the bill never made it out of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the US Senate and never was introduced in the US House.

Instead of honestly listening to these concerns, Senator Tester apparently decided to work behind the scenes to attach a different version of his bill to this completely unrelated $1.3 trillion spending bill that's nearly 2000 pages long.  It's unfortunate that Senator Tester has chosen such a course.
Matthew Koehler :: Get the Lowdown on Tester's Logging Bil
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Interesting Test (0.00 / 0)
for Rehberg.  Does he try to kill it, or try to amend it?  Can he kill it?  I wonder.

MK, I can't say that I find complaints about the process -- or observations about the size of the bill -- particularly compelling.  This is the best action we'll see on wilderness for at least two years, and quite likely a great many more.  Is it good enough?

I lean towards "no" on that.  That said, I wonder what would happen if the BHDL parts were stripped out, and this thing was done just in the Kootenai as an experiment.

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

I Mean (0.00 / 0)
I wouldn't be surprised if the omnibus bill ends up in conference.  There being way too much at stake in that thing for the House to simply rubber stamp Senate additions.  And you wouldn't expect to see either Tester or Rehberg in the conference committee.

And obviously, it's on the conference table where this stuff is going to get hashed finally out.

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

Here's a few substantive examples (4.00 / 1)
Hello Charley, I hear you about some of these process issues not being particularly compelling to some people. But then again, to some people they do matter. In this specific case, the fact of the matter is that this bill never made it out of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the US Senate and never was introduced in the US House. But now at the 11th hour a different version of the bill ends up attached to this $1.3 trillion spending bill.

We've tried to focus plenty over the past few years on the actual substance of the bill and the potential long-term ramifications of it, based on our experience.  But I've also found that sometimes those substantive issues don't really matter to people either because there too wonky or because, honestly, some people don't really understand these issues in the first place so their eyes just glaze over.

But here are some specific examples from the actual bill.

Take, for example, the 229,710 acre West Pioneers Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA), which includes the 151,00 acre Metcalf Wilderness Study Area (WSA). What Sen Tester's bill would do is turn 129,252 acres of this IRA into a permanent, motorized Recreation Management Areas (RMA). Seriously, do we really want politicians ignoring the USFS's travel plans to just legislate where they want motorized recreation permanently permitted?

Of course, our recommendation would be to designate the entire 151,000 acre Metcalf WSA as Wilderness and eliminate the permanently motorized RMA, returning the management of that area to USFS travel planning, where it belongs.

Or take, for example, what Tester's bill would do to the West Big Hole IRA, a 213,987 acre area along the crest of the continental divide that provides linkages and connectivity between the Greater Yellowstone area and forests to the west and north.

The Tester bill would turn just 44,084 acres of this IRA into two small, far-apart Wilderness Areas while turning much of the IRA into a single, large, permanent, motorized National Recreation Area (NRA) totaling 94,237 acres. The large NRA would be twice as large as the two proposed Wilderness areas together and access to these two proposed Wilderness areas would be forced to use the motorized NRA trails.

Those are just two examples contained in the bill. I can provide more examples if anyone likes.

And anyone can check out a small sampling of the official comments sent in to the Senate ENR Committee by individual members and organization's here:



I Understand (0.00 / 0)
Really I do.

If you liked the bill, would you be complaining that it got attached to an omnibus spending measure, without having gotten out of committee?  Maybe you would.  I know I wouldn't.

The USFS works for Congress, essentially.  Implementing the various laws enacted by Congress.  It's not like NEPA, NFMA, or the ESA came down from some mountain carved on stone tablets.  Do I think sausage should be made cleanly, and following scientific procedures?  Indeed, I do.  On the other hand, while the process might say something about the sausage, it's not always definitive about whether you want to eat it.  That depends also on how hungry you are, and what the alternatives really are.

To me the real question is much simpler.  Are we better off with the status quo -- the 30 year deadlock, with all factions anxiously eyeing each other daggers drawn -- or with an imperfect deal that covers some but far from all of the remaining lands.  I guess we don't know what the politics of complete de-industrialization are going to be like another 30 years from now.  So maybe we do get a better deal just saying no.

I do see the attraction, though, of Sen. Tester's idea that getting some serious local buy-in for committing to some permanent wilderness areas is an effort worth trying for, even though it's going to have to entail some sacrifice.  You obviously think that the price for a deal in the BHDL is too high.  Do you think the experiment is also a failure in the Kootenai?

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

[ Parent ]
Charley, Charley, Charley (0.00 / 0)
"The USFS works for Congress, essentially. "

That's about the most asinine thing I've heard in a long time. The USFS is a part of the Department of Agriculture, which is an Executive branch of the government.

You can no more say that the USFS works for Congress than you can any other agency in the executive. To do so undermines anything you may say about policy and/or legislation that affects it. I couldn't even read your comment beyond that point.

Congress writes and passes laws. The President signs them, and implements them. The Departments themselves write the regulations under which their agencies operate, according to the laws that were passed. Ever read the Federal Register? I shouldn't have to give you a lecture about this. It's called "separation of powers."

And "permanent wilderness"??? Whazzat? (I cheated and skimmed the rest of your comment--not sure why)

[ Parent ]
You Misunderstood My Point (0.00 / 0)
I understand very well how our government works, both formally and actually.  

USDA was created by Congress, and has particular statutory mandates.  NFMA, the Wilderness Act, ESA, all the rest, come from Congress.  Sure agencies are given, by Congress, the authority to engage in rulemaking, and there are some questions that are specifically delegated to agencies to run.  The big questions though -- what federal land will be in a national forest, what part of a national forest will be wilderness, what does wilderness mean -- those belong to Congress.  One can decry the Congress involving itself in the matters in the Tester bill at the micro-level, but it happens all the time.  And if the USFS doesn't like it, they can lobby against the bill, or they can try to get the President to veto it, but if it passes and he signs it, they have to fall in line.

"Permanent wilderness."  Ok, I was looking for a phrase that would distinguish between lands that are, in natural terms, a wilderness (like WSAs and other roadless areas) and lands that are designated by Congress as Wilderness.

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

[ Parent ]
Again, Charley, Charley, Charley (0.00 / 0)
"And if the USFS doesn't like it, they can lobby against the bill, or they can try to get the President to veto it,"

No, agencies aren't allowed to lobby. They can testify in Congress, if asked, prepare reports, etc. That is not lobbying. And agencies wielding enough power to get a presidential veto? In a rider to a 1.3 trillion dollar omnibus bill? Never gonna happen. And when was the last time Obama vetoed a bill, anyways?

As to your "big questions" though:

"what federal land will be in a national forest, what part of a national forest will be wilderness, what does wilderness mean"

The first two are obvious allocation issues--though the USFS can manage an undesignated parcel as wilderness or roadless, or for some significant subset of those values without Congressional intervention (though Congress tries to intervene with micromanagement all the time). But asking Congress as to the meaning of wilderness? Yikes. Yes we have the Wilderness Act, but that was done decades ago. And what COngress has repeatedly done, and the FJRA has attempted to do, is change that definition, and whittle away at it.

NO, I'd counter that while COngress maintains the working definition of Wilderness, they don't have a clue--now that people like Lee Metcalf have exited their ranks--on "what does wilderness mean." To get an answer to that question you have to look a lot further than the halls of Congress. We could debate that question to eternity and back. Suffice it to say you won't find the answer written into law.

And as to your term "permanent wilderness", designated wilderness works just fine. And whatever Congress designates, it can undesignate. There is no such thing as "permanent wilderness." Even on the Moon.

For many of us, a designation, under the Wilderness Act, as "Wilderness" does not necessarily convey any more importance, protection, or longevity to a piece of undesignated, though potentially protected WSA or roadless area. Ever pore over management areas on a Forest management map?

This whole notion of trading the hard release of currently protected (though undesignated) lands for an official designation of a subset of lands is in many of our minds a violation of our principle that all currently roadless lands should remain protected. And if it takes killing all legislation with hard release (or unpalatable side issues like the FJRA), then so be it.

If you're going to argue wilderness politics with Matt and I, a couple of old stalwarts from the trenches  (and NREPA supporters), then you need to be rather precise and specific in your language and debate, or we'll tear it apart.

[ Parent ]
JC, JC, JC (0.00 / 0)
I have no idea why you want to pick some kind of fight with me.  You want to tear apart trivialities?

I didn't say Congress was smart.  I said it was the boss.

You don't have to call what the agency liaison offices do "lobbying."  Give it any name you want.  But there's a whole lot of whatever you're calling it going on.  

I never said I thought the President would veto the omnibus bill.  If he'd wanted to do something with the Tester provisions, he'd most likely have gotten it done in the House, or conference.  I wouldn't actually have expected that, because I suspect that someone in the admin had a chance to derail the thing in the Senate and didn't take it.  The Tester effort fits the President's governing philosophy, after all.  

Obviously, nothing in this life is permanent.  One can make a useful distinction, though, between lands designated by Congress as wilderness, and those that are not yet designated.  Yes, I know, Congress could dissolve the Bob next month.  A whole lot more likely, though, is that they open up lands currently in an unsettled status.  Maybe not in 2011.  Maybe in 2013.  The critical political question is whether the failure of Sen. Tester's compromise effort, flawed though the result was, ends up leading to worse consequences.  Maybe not, maybe there's no price to pay from just saying no.  Your past experience doesn't tell you anything about the answer to that, of course.  The political landscape is different at each turn of the wheel, and the failure of this effort will color how the next opportunity arises.

(I'm hesitant to say that the status quo is stable: my perception is that there have been troubling encroachments on the undesignated lands.  I'd defer to Mr. Koehler on this question, though.)

JC, I've gone back and forth on whether to respond at all to the personal insults you seem compelled to include in your comments, and if so, how.  Several draft responses deleted, because there's really not any point in wasting everyone's time with some sort of authenticity poker.  I'll just say that this isn't my first rodeo, and leave it at that.  

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

[ Parent ]
Personal insults? (0.00 / 0)
What that I have written on this page was a personal insult? I may have taken a hard line on the nature of your comments, but nothing I said was intended as ad hominem. If you took any of this as a personal insult, I'm sorry for that. It's just when I hear things like "The USFS works for Congress" my hackles raise up to the max. And then my replies might get a bit harsh. But don't take it personally. If I ever intend to insult someone personally, I do it rather directly. And that wasn't my intention with you.

But when I argue wilderness politics, I hear too much sloppy discourse used as a way to rationalize whatever legislative process is underway. Most USFS policy and process is above the head of the average citizen (now don't get bent thinking I'm talking about you, I'm not). So when people apply bad politics to misunderstood policy and process, the result is terrible legislation, in my opinion. And thus goes the FJRA.

[ Parent ]
Tester's rider expanded Kootenai Logging Mandate 3-fold (0.00 / 0)
You obviously think that the price for a deal in the BHDL is too high.  Do you think the experiment is also a failure in the Kootenai?

Charley, that's a good question and I'm circling back this cold, windy morning to take a stab at answering this.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not too familiar with the specifics of the Wilderness or other recreation components of ID's in the Tester bill as they relate to the Kootenai NF.

Despite the claim in a half-page ad from October 2008 (placed in a Libby newspaper by Wayne Hirst, one of the main Tester bill "collaborators") that "Matt Koehler is the man most responsible for the economic destruction of Libby," I personally haven't spent much time or work focus on the Kootenai over the years. So I would defer to opinions and expertise of members of our Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign who live around the Kootenai or spend their work focus doing forest watch up there. I'm happy to put you in contact with any of these people if you like.

However, when it comes to the logging mandates on the Kootenai, a few points are worth highlighting.

Unlike the logging mandates on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, which are clearly written in terms of "minimums" with no maxs established, at least the logging mandates on the Kootenai are hard numbers.

Basically, the version of the Tester bill that was attached as a rider to the now failed omnibus spending bill, established mandated logging of 2,000 acres during the first year, 2,500 acres during the second and 3,000 acres per year until a total of 30,000 acres had be placed under contract.

However, the original Tester bill only applied these logging mandates to the Three Rivers Ranger District of the Kootenai. However, they realized this logging mandate ran into conflict with special grizzly bear management provisions in that ranger district.

So what the version of Tester's bill in his rider actually did was expanded the logging mandates on the Kootenai National Forest beyond just the Three Rivers Ranger District to the Cabinet Ranger District, Libby Ranger District and the Rexford Ranger District.

This map from the Forest Service will give you a nice visual: http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/kooten...

So basically, compared with the original version of the Tester bill, the rider version actually expanded the logging mandate on the Kootenai to apply to an estimated 85% of the 2.2 million acre forest. While Senator Tester and his staff claimed the rider version of his bill wasn't any different then the original, this is just but one example of where that's clearly not true.

So while perhaps not as egregious as the provisions in the BHDL NF, we do have serious, substantive concerns with the way the Tester bill, or Tester's rider, would affect the management of the Kootenai National Forest. Thanks.  

[ Parent ]
BREAKING: Democrats abruptly drop spending fight (0.00 / 0)
Democrats abruptly drop spending fight
By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON | Thu Dec 16, 2010 8:24pm EST

(Reuters) - Democrats abruptly abandoned a fight over spending on Thursday and said they would instead extend government funding on a temporary basis, a move that gives Republicans a greater chance to enact the deep cuts they have promised.

No Sausage Dinner (0.00 / 0)
And I guess we'll see what kind of deal is on offer next time the stars align.

Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.

[ Parent ]

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