Is Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA) a jobs bill or a wilderness bill? Ask this in Western Montana and you’re sure to stir debate equal to a Cat-Griz discussion. From its 2009 introduction as S268 to the recent version, S37, Sen. Tester maintains it is a jobs bill developed from collaboration involving diverse groups. His opposition contends it has been a Wilderness bill developed by selected groups lured with promises of jobs and recreation.
The FJRA has some premise as a jobs bill and recreation act. FJRA “mandates” logging 100,000 acres over 15 years after the bill’s passage, creating timber related jobs. Jobs may also be created as part of forest restoration projects. Regarding recreation, FJRA guarantees snowmobilers access to already existing trail systems, amongst other trinkets. And let’s not forget the tourists who will flock to Montana year-round to experience our wilderness. Or is it Wilderness?
Wilderness, with a capital “W” is congressionally designated, protected by stringent regulations guaranteeing its pristine beauty and characteristics. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defined Wilderness characteristics. An excellent example is the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Wilderness areas do not allow any mechanized travel for personal or maintenance activity. Bicycles and game carts are not allowed in Wilderness, travel on the ground is by foot or hoof only.
On the other hand, there is the commonly referred to wilderness with a lower-case “w.” This is the wilderness for which tourists overwhelmingly come to Montana. Motorized, mechanized (on designated routes), and foot travel are all allowed. Many tourists enjoy their wilderness experience from the comfort of a vehicle. In their wilderness version, they may stay in RVs complete with satellite television and high-speed internet. Maybe these amenities preclude them from packing a tent and sleeping bag and food and water purification systems into the Bob Marshall for a true Wilderness experience. It’s important to understand the difference between Wilderness and wilderness. Tourists come for the wilderness.
Sen. Tester’s FJRA is a Wilderness bill. Many supporters bristle at this. This is exactly what supporter and former U.S. Rep. Pat Williams called it on Sen. Tester’s website. It guarantees over 650,000 acres of new Wilderness. The FJRA violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act and the Wilderness Act of 1964. Sen. Tester has refused to consider the inventoried mineral reserves within his proposed new Wilderness areas. This violates the Wilderness Act of 1964. A comprehensive mineral inventory was completed by a geologist formerly with the Bureau of Mines at Montana Tech and presented to Sen. Tester’s office. The inventory was also included in testimony before a Montana State Legislative Natural Resources hearing. A jobs bill would have considered the societal worth and accessibility to those mineral reserves. They are a valued commodity like timber.
Furthermore, FJRA provides no new avenues for pursuing any logging. Despite all the language and pages dedicated to timber, it simply rehashes current, standard procedure. Nothing in this bill prevents Sarah Jane Johnson’s or Michael Garrity’s groups from filing more lawsuits against timber sales and continuing their paychecks at public expense. Millions of dollars have flowed into environmentalist coffers via the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Often, when environmental groups win these lawsuits, they are awarded attorney and expert witness fees at the taxpayers’ expense. This removes money from trail and road maintenance and other projects. The environmental movement is financed on crusades to save wilderness by designating it Wilderness. Without cause and conflict, the environmental movement is hampered in its ability to raise money through donations or the EAJA.
Hybrids almost never fulfill the comprise of the entities they attempt to unite. Sen. Tester should have written two bills in place of this badly designed hybrid. First, a Forest Jobs and Recreation Act to include hard, legal language granting the Forest Service timber sales, and designating National Recreation Areas, both off limits to environmental litigation and harassment. Then, he should have been forthright in composing a Wilderness bill in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. Each bill would then have been debated on its own merits, rather than this bill that simply continues the status quo.
Ben Erickson lives in Belgrade. He is an executive co-chairman of Citizens For Balanced Use and enjoys the great outdoors of Montana.