While the House of Representatives and the President were in D.C. late last week trying to sort out the payroll tax debacle, Senator Tester and his colleagues in the Democratic-controlled Senate headed home a for an early Christmas vacation. Senator Tester spent his time touring mills in Townsend, Deer Lodge, and Seeley Lake, trying to bring life to the pet project of his Senate tenure, his federal land grab known as the “Wilderness Bill” (or by its misleading but politically correct title: The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act). Tester’s bill once again failed to receive funding in the Interior Department’s budget this year. Like the last time around, Senator Tester attached his bill to the omnibus spending bill designed to fund the entire federal government, rather than passing the bill on its own merit. Senator Tester says this bill is good for Montana, yet he never has enough support to pass it through Congress, even when his party has a majority. That is why he tries to attach it to other bills. Senator Tester insists that his unpopular bill is not dead though and promptly began scouring for support.
Tester’s wilderness bill isn’t too short and it’s not the easiest reading, but at around 50 pages I was able to get through it in about an hour and comprehend enough of it to be able to know that it’s bad legislation. The most controversial aspect of the bill is that it creates about a million new acres of federal wilderness land. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions…”
It is obvious that Montanans are going to be skeptical of the federal government defining a million acres of their land as “wilderness”. This legislation for obvious reasons is generally opposed by landowners, ranchers, farmers, the mining industry, ATV riders, and virtually every other outdoor group, except a small number in the timber industry that Senator Tester has managed to deceive and the out of state environmentalists who are writing his campaign checks.
The bill would give greater power to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and restrict Montanans access to lands for recreational or economic use, while failing to adequately deal with the problems of pine beetles, wildfires, and logging. Tester has consistently spoken of his wilderness bill as if it is purely a bill designed to help the logging industry, when in fact that is only part of the flawed legislation. He also fails to properly address the logging issue by mandating a certain amount of logging in certain designated areas. In the short term, this might help out some mills to a small extent, but by trying to solve a problem by adding federal red tape to it, he is not solving the problem or helping Montana’s economy in any way.
Jed Link, a spokesman for Congressman Rehberg, said it best of Tester’s bill:
“New wilderness areas are guaranteed in the Tester bill but new jobs are not. In the long run, this bill will mean less public access to our lands and fewer jobs. And that’s just not a fair deal for Montanans.”
Maybe now Senator Tester will abandon this unpopular legislation and start working for Montanans instead of his environmentalist campaign contributors and federal bureaucrats.