New West: Wilderness Bills Likely to Pass

Aaron Flint posted on November 30, 2010 08:22 :: 1070 Views

The liberal news website New West reports on a massive piece of legislation bundling several new wilderness and national monument designations into one bill being pushed during the lame duck session of Congress. 

Plus, New West handicaps efforts by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to create new wilderness in Montana. 

Voting on individual bills in the limited time left in this session means few, if any of these bills, would become law despite obvious support from Congress. As a result Senator Bingaman, chair of the Senate Energy Committee, has decided to bundle as many as 60 separate bills, including many wilderness proposals into one Omnibus lands bill for passage.

The status of two major pieces of wilderness legislation is unknown at this point. Montana Senator Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, (S. 1470), that would designate 669,160 acres of wilderness and 336,205 acres of recreation, protection, and special management areas on three national forests in Montana–the Kootenai, Beaver Head-Deerlodge and Lolo National Forests remains uncertain.

Senator Tester’s bill is more problematic especially on Tester’s insistence for a mandated logging quota, which is not popular in Congress. Whether Tester’s will be in the Omnibus bill is unknown, however, Tester’s staff hopes that the Senator can circumvent the Omnibus bill process by attaching his legislation to other must pass legislation as a rider. Given the large amount of new wilderness that would be created, one can hope that some compromise can be reached that would enable the basic outline of this legislation to be enacted, but without out the egregious timber mandates.

Here’s the bottom line.  Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has a wilderness bill he is hoping to pass during this lame duck Congressional session.  Enviros don’t like it because of logging mandates- but conservatives and multiple use groups don’t want new wilderness and think the logging will never happen anyway- especially as long as US District Judge Don Molloy sits on the bench for the federal court in Missoula. 

The wild card making lame duck passage of this even more unpopular:  The leaked documents out of the US Department of Interior showing plans to create a new national monument stretching along Montana’s northern tier.  Folks in Central and Northeastern Montana are fired up- the town of Malta has yard signs opposing a potential monument lining the main streets as you drive through town.  Nearly 2,000 people showed up in Malta to air their concerns directly to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management during a September visit.  These folks will be especially leery of any attempt to create new monuments or wilderness in Montana.  I expect that they will see Tester’s wilderness bill as a sign of what’s to come for their area in due time. 

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