U.S. SENATE —Today, in a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Steve Daines urged Congress to take action on his bill that will improve the health of national forests and revitalize the timber industry. Daines’ bill, the Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act, establishes a pilot arbitration program authorizing the U.S. Forest Service to use binding arbitration in Montana and Idaho as an alternative dispute resolution process for certain forest restoration projects.
“As we speak there are 27 timber sales currently under litigation in Montana. I can’t even see the mountains out my back door in my home which are just a few miles away because of the smoke,” Daines said. “Combating chronic litigation doesn’t erode public input, it safeguards it. It does so by ensuring consensus driven decisions of the majority are not obstructed by isolated dissenters, in most cases, extreme environmental groups.”
During the hearing, the U.S. Forest Service expressed support for establishing a pilot arbitration program for Montana and Idaho, agreeing with Daines that litigation and the threat of litigation impedes restoration projects.
Today, there are 27 timber sales under litigation in Montana, 21 of which are enjoined, preventing work on over 17,000 acres. Litigation against forest management projects often takes 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.
Last week, the “Teepee Creek” Stewardship Project on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest was enjoined after one day of work forcing crews to stop work. This project would have helped reduce fire risks in nearby communities. To make matters worse, the logger’s feller buncher was vandalized after the project was shut down.
Following introduction of the bill, several stakeholders and community leaders offered statements of support. Click HERE to read more.
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and James Risch (R-Idaho).