by Michael Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Opinion – Your Turn
Sen. Jon Tester made many promises during his campaign against former Sen. Conrad Burns, including working to protect all inventoried roadless areas, not using riders to manage public lands, and not supporting riders for funding special interest groups. Tester broke all three of those promises this week when he slipped a rider in the trillion dollar Omnibus spending bill that ended up getting defeated in the Senate. Plenty of Montanans remember what Tester said during his campaign, however, so it’s no surprise to see major newspaper editorials and op-ed columns across the state taking him to task for breaking his promises and providing Montanans no chance whatsoever to provide input to Congress on the issue.
That Montanans’ response has been universally condemning is clear and convincing. Tester’s desperation tactic of using a rider for such a major piece of legislation is nothing short of despicable. His logging and wilderness bill couldn’t even make it out of the Senate committee because of opposition to the mandated logging and the manner in which it seriously undermines the basic foundations of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Instead, Montanans got a significantly changed proposal tacked on to the Omnibus spending bill with three days left in the lame duck session and no chance for the public here and across the nation to review the measure or comment to lawmakers. That might be the way they do things in D.C. these days, but it’s not the way we do things in Montana.
While Tester’s spin machine claims that only “fringe” groups are against his bill, nothing could be less true. Montanans are known for their individuality and the concerns with his proposal have been stated by many who find the various machinations of “the deal” cut by a handful of collaborators in back rooms to be onerous.
Nor do the economics of Tester’s bill make sense. His rider mandated at least 100,000 acres of logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai National Forests at a time when U.S. wood consumption is down 50 percent and new home construction down 70 percent. Mandates on production didn’t work in the old centrally planned Soviet Union and they surely don’t work in our capitalist economy. In market economies, producing a constant level of supply regardless of economic conditions destabilizes the market, businesses, and communities. During periods of excess supply, it drives prices lower and during periods of excess demand, it drives prices higher than they otherwise would be. Thus, mandating a constant flow of lumber into the market does not stabilize communities as Tester claims, it does the opposite.
Moreover, the Forest Service’s budget shows that the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest loses over $1,400 per acre when they log. So logging 70,000 acres there would cost taxpayers $98 million. Logging 30,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest would add another $42 million to the bill. That means Tester’s attempt of a corporate Christmas present would have cost taxpayers $140 million when we can least afford it.
By mandating more logging in the Kootenai National Forest, Tester would have mandated the extinction of one of the smallest, most endangered grizzly bear populations in the world. The Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem is 90 percent National Forest land. That system has been managed by the Kootenai National Forest, which has struggled to attain only half of it goal for grizzly bear recovery numbers. Under Tester’s mandated timber harvests — and the roads it would require — even more lethal confrontations with humans will occur, dooming recovery efforts.
When you add it all up, it’s no surprise that the reaction to Tester’s failed move from Montanans and their media has been overwhelmingly negative. Tester should know better — more broken political promises are not what we were looking forward to for Christmas and not what we will accept.
Michael Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies in Helena.