Congressman Steve Daines today announced that he has joined Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) in introducing legislation to address the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program by renewing the federal government's commitment to manage forest resources.
"The responsible and active management of our National Forests is critical for the health of Montana's economy, as well as the health of our forests themselves," Daines stated. "The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act will cut the red tape that has held up responsible forest management and timber production and ensure that the federal government keeps its commitment to Montana's rural schools and counties."
"The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act ensures that the federal government finally keeps its promise to Montana counties containing National Forest land. Montana once boasted a strong timber industry that helped maintain healthy forests and support local jobs, as well as provide a steady revenue stream for our counties," Daines continued. "But in recent decades, unrelenting appeals and lawsuits have imposed a huge administrative burden on federal agencies and resulted in the mismanagement of our forests. This has left numerous Montana counties without the necessary funds to provide for communities' needs, like emergency services and pay for teachers. Last summer, Montana experienced one of the worst fire seasons in our state's history. This is unacceptable."
Daines recently completed a two-week statewide tour of Montana's natural resources in order to hear first-hand Montanans' concerns over the management of the state's resources. During the tour, Daines toured several Montana sawmills and wood products manufacturers. Montanans associated with the state's wood products industry expressed deep frustrations over the U.S. Forest Service's management of federal forest in Montana, which has led to severe restrictions on access to harvestable timber in Montana.
Loren Rose, Chief Operating Officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. in Seeley Lake noted the need for reforms and commended Daines' efforts:
"Montana is home to millions of acres of abundant forests, but decades of federal mismanagement have led to overstocked forests, devastating forest fires and insect infestations, diminishing wildlife habitats, and economic instability within our rural counties," Rose said. "Years of litigation and needless red tape have put in place countless barriers that have been detrimental toward the health of our forests and this important industry. I am thankful that Congressman Daines is leading the way toward real reforms that will help revitalize our state's woods products industry and ensure that Montana's forests are properly managed for years to come."
Chuck Roady, Vice President & General Manager of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company in Columbia Falls, also says the legislation championed by Daines is an important step toward restoring active forest management, robust timber harvests, and improving forest health in Montana's National Forests:
"As the vice president of the oldest family-owned lumber company in Montana, I know firsthand and witness every day the consequences of the lack of management of the federal forests in our state," Roady stated. "We're down to a handful of mills in Montana and employment in our once flourishing industry continues to needlessly decline. The challenge is certainly not a shortage of timber that can and should be responsibly harvested. It is that current federal laws encourage a continuous barrage of excessive appeals and frivolous litigation that hinder us from doing business and from practicing good stewardship on those lands. I am proud Congressman Daines is joining Chairman Hastings in this effort to preserve our great state's legacy of responsible forest management, production of wood products for our nation, and to ensure our forests can be healthy for future generations. This legislation could be a game-changer for increasing forest jobs while revitalizing our timber counties and communities in Montana, and I certainly hope it becomes law."
Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott has also applauded Daines' continued efforts to provide Montana counties supported by Secure Rural Schools funding with a long-term solution:
"Representative Daines understand how the federal government has missed the mark in management of forest lands," Chilcott stated. "While much of our forests are suitable for harvesting, we still face community-threatening wildfires each summer and almost 10 percent unemployment in Ravalli County. There is much that can be done to better manage our forests, create jobs, and protect our communities from wildfires while assuring local governments have resources they need to best serve the public. I am thrilled to hear Congressman Daines' commitment to Montana."
Daines serves as a member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, which holds jurisdiction over the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.
"Restoring active forest management and allowing responsible timber production is vital to the livelihoods of rural communities in Montana and throughout the country. I'm pleased to be working with Congressman Daines on this common sense legislation to provide a stable revenue stream for rural schools and counties and promote healthier forests," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings.
Montana counties rely on more than $22 million in Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funding annually. In 2011, Beaverhead County received $1.3 million, Flathead County received $1.8 million, Lincoln County received $5 million, and Mineral County received $1 million in SRS funds.
Specifically, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act:
· Requires that the Forest Service actively manage its commercial timber lands to produce revenues.
· Requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable yield of timber each year and, as required by law since 1908, share 25 percent of receipts with the counties.
· Protects the environment by requiring projects to complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultations, but streamlines the process to avoid frivolous and lengthy delays, lawsuits, and bureaucratic red tape.
· Will provide an extension of SRS payments to allow counties to transition back to payments from active forest management.