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Obama Administration Conducts Due Diligence on Tester Bill

March 5, 2010

DEER LODGE, Mont. - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is visiting Montana Saturday to guage how people in the region feel about a proposed new law to manage the state's forest land. His visit includes a community meeting in Deer Lodge to hear local views on Sen. Jon Tester's Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Considered by its sponsor as collaborative effort between environmentalists, the timber industry and other stakeholders, the Act would attempt to balance the needs of all who have an interest in the state's forest areas for things such as recreation, logging, fire management and hunting. Sec. Vilsack's visit is being viewed as "due diligence."

Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, supports the Act and will attend the meeting. He says, while there has been a lot of focus on the logging and wilderness aspects in the proposal, the way it was crafted with input from a wide array of interests is what really has piqued interest from the Obama administration.

"There's a whole bunch of people who normally don't spend a lot of time together, don't agree on a lot of natural resource management issues, who are doing just that."

Sec. Vilsack will also meet with ag producers in Helena, and take an aerial tour of beetle-killed forests. Some of those beetle-killed trees could be harvested under the Tester bill, as well as trees in other areas. Farling says money from the timber would be used to repair roads that are weeping sediment into streams and damaging fish habitat, along with paying for other projects and putting people to work.

"The value of the trees removed will be reinvested on the same landscapes. We've got to fix some recreational infrastructure, like trails and bridges. We need to deal with this huge road system that hasn't been maintained."

Opposition to Sen. Tester's bill comes from some off-roading groups and those who think no logging should be allowed.

The community meeting with Sec. Vilsack and Sen. Tester will occur Saturday, from 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., at the Powell County Community Center in Deer Lodge.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT