Daines Introduces Legislation to Accelerate Forest Management

U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senator Steve Daines today introduced the Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act to accelerate badly needed and locally supported forest management projects that will improve the health of National Forests and get loggers back to work. 

Daines’ bill establishes a pilot arbitration program authorizing the U.S. Forest Service to use binding arbitration in Region 1 (Montana, parts of Idaho, North Dakota) as an alternative dispute resolution process for certain forest restoration projects. Litigation against forest management projects frequently take many years to resolve. Pilot arbitration authority would bring swifter resolution to disputed projects. In doing so, hazardous fuels reduction projects developed through a collaborative process that are allowed to go forward will be implemented more quickly. 

“Fringe litigators – radical environmental extremists – sue to stop commonsense collaborative forest management projects that would reduce the risk of wildfire,” Daines stated. “We need to provide common sense relief to the Forest Service to get projects off the ground and out of the courtroom. We need to manage our forests, before our forests manage us.” 

Statements of Support:

“The NWTF welcomes Senator Daines’ proposal of a pilot program offering binding arbitration as an alternative to litigation. We believe this will remove another barrier to implementing important forest management, that has been recommended through a collaborative effort, in a timely manner.” Rebecca A. Humphries, Chief Executive Officer, National Wild Turkey Federation

“It is vital for forested counties that we get back to managing our forests. This pilot program will help keep vital forest management projects from becoming tied up in litigation. This will mean better fire mitigation, fewer lawsuits, and more jobs and revenue for forest communities. Thank you Senator Daines for sponsoring this important legislation.” Roman Zylawy, Chair, Mineral County Board of Commissioners

“The Wild Sheep Foundation supports Senator Daines’s pilot proposal to advance collaboratively-developed projects to improve forest health.” Gray Thorton, President & CEO, Wild Sheep Foundation

“Lack of active management of our forests has significantly impacted habitat for elk and other wildlife. One of the main reasons forests remain unmanaged and susceptible to insects, disease and wildfire is the staggering number of lawsuits filed by organizations seeking to stop all management—despite the damage done to forest resources, wildlife and communities. RMEF supports arbitration to move projects out of the courtroom and into the hands of stakeholders. Those who don’t support an arbitration process at some level, aren’t truly committed to solving the issues plaguing our national forests.” David Allen, President & CEO, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

“This bill is a good step toward improving forest management. Arbitration would protect taxpayer dollars by avoiding a lengthy court process and provide for certain projects to be completed in a time frame that actually accomplishes the goal of better forest management. This bill would also improve the prospects of salvage timber projects to move forward before the timber is no longer merchantable.” Rosebud County Commissioners

“Montana Wood Products Industry has long advocated for alternative dispute resolution as an option to deal with obstructionist litigation in Region 1 that impacts jobs in the woods and at the mills. We believe this reasonable approach will be a step forward in judicial relief that is desperately needed in Region 1.” Julia Altemus, Executive Director, Montana Wood Products Association

“The Montana Logging Association has long witnessed the decline in forest management in Region 1 and the challenges the agency faces from serial litigators. We thank Senator Daines for offering this opportunity to the Forest Service and hope to see this authority move collaboratively developed projects out of the courts and back into the woods.” Keith Olsen, Executive Director, Montana Logging Association

“The Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act will provide an excellent opportunity to test drive the arbitration process and seek efficiencies and better outcomes in forest conflict management. I applaud Senator Daines’ pilot approach to test the process through a program that is limited in scope, depth, and timeframe.” Mark Peck, County Commissioner, Lincoln County

According to the Forest Service, there are 19 projects in Region 1 that are currently impacted by litigation. While other regions face frequent litigation, Region 1 experience litigation far more than any other region: 

  • Of the 19 Region 1 projects currently impacted by litigation, 12 were developed through a collaborative process.
  • Fifteen of the 19 projects are in Montana. Ten of those were developed through a collaborative process.
  • Of the 19 projects, 17 include acres that are inside the wildland urban interface, which is defined as the areas where communities are in close proximity to forests that are at risk of wildfire. All 15 of the MT projects impacted by litigation include WUI acres.

This legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Jim Risch (R-ID).