Lincoln County Commissioner testifies about importance of forest management reform for rural jobs, tax revenue
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today pressed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find solutions to increase timber harvests and called on them to work with local leaders to achieve increased harvests.
During today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on improving forest health, Daines pressed USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie on solutions to increase timber harvests after U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell acknowledged to Daines last week that a goal of nearly tripling harvests in Montana’s National Forests is “very reasonable.” The Forest Service is part of the USDA.
“We need to find a path forward to create economic opportunities in our forested counties and the status quo is not acceptable,” Daines stated. “The Forest Service needs to come to the table and work with local leaders on the ground to fix our National Forest system. I will continue pressing the Forest Service and the Obama administration until they embrace solutions that will increase forest jobs and improve forest health in all 10 of Montana’s National Forests.”
Today’s hearing was also attended by Lincoln County Commissioner Mark Peck, who shared his deep frustrations with the severe decline in timber harvests in Lincoln County and across Montana. Peck emphasized that the economic loss has resulted in a corresponding population decline in Lincoln County.
“This unnecessary conflict between industry and ecology has wreaked havoc on a once-vibrant community and a once-vibrant forest landscape,” Peck stated. “When I graduated from Libby High School in 1977, we had more than 700 students. We now have a high school with a population of approximately 300 and we have lost over 1000 students from all grades since 1998.”
Daines emphasized that the current laws and policies do not incentivize collaborative-driven forest projects. Daines asked Peck how he would characterize the level of timber harvests today, compared to what’s both sustainable and healthy for Montana’s National Forests.
“There is no question that the cuts that we’ve been seeing are, in my opinion not only as a County Commissioner, but as a former Montana Department of Natural Resources Timber Manager, are far below what we need to see from a forest health stand point and definitely from an economic stand point,” Peck stated.
Daines asked Peck about the importance of instituting an annual timber sale requirement such as the one instituted at the state level in order to encourage and mandate that timber sales reach the set sale target.
“On state lands it was absolutely critical. It provides not only motivation, but predictability and accountability not only from a sustained yield and health of the forest and habitat stand point but it brings predictability to industry as well,” Peck stated.
Daines recently held forest management reform roundtables in several Western Montana communities where he heard firsthand how the shuttering and decreased operations of sawmills were damaging to Montana’s families, small businesses and economy.