U.S. House Republicans are resurrecting a plan from a few years back to speed up timber harvest on federal lands in the name catastrophic fire prevention. This time they are finding some support on the left. Representatives of the Obama administration have been receptive to some of the GOP timber management ideas.

But those who try to exploit this strategy as just another way to overharvest national forests and cut timber and build roads into the last of the nation’s wild areas need to think again. That’s not going to fly, nor should it.

The Republican proposal calls for streamlined review of projects under 15,000 acres in size and aimed at minimizing wildfire risk. In its current form it also makes filing litigation challenging timber harvesting plans more expensive by requiring litigants to post a bond to cover federal court costs if the timber sale challengers lose the lawsuit.

Some House Democrats have expressed concern the plan goes too far towards loosening review of timber harvesting plans, and many environmental groups openly oppose the legislation.

Montana’s sole representative, Republican Ryan Zinke, has been participating in the GOP effort to develop legislation. His proposals include incentives for collaboration by giving priority to and limiting review of projects developed through cooperation between diverse interests — industry representatives, environmental groups, tribes and local governments.

Those are promising ideas. Such cooperation was responsible for developing Montana’s Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, but that promising piece of legislation fell victim to the same old partisanship when it was scuttled by Republicans.

If this idea is to move off the dime, Zinke and his Republican colleagues must be open to amendments suggested by Democrats. Failing that, it will face a veto from the White House and we will be right back where we started from — in gridlock.

Hot dry weather and insect infestations have turned many parts of the Rocky Mountains into extreme fire risk areas. There are many places where that risk can be lessened through judicious timber harvest. But the only way that’s going to happen is if all sides in the debate act in good faith.

Our national forests have been tied up for too long by all-or-nothing positions from all sides of the issue. It’s time for real compromise, and Montana’s congressional delegation can lead the way.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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