DEER LODGE - Some members of Congress believe the country’s forest management just isn’t cutting it.
“I’m of the firm belief if we don’t start managing our forests we’re going to continue to see these catastrophic wildfires,” said U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-MT.
Gianforte invited his Republican colleague from Arkansas, Rep. Bruce Westerman, to tour Sun Mountain Lumber Mill in Deer Lodge Monday and visit federal forest land nearby where timber is harvested.
The tour is an effort to draw support for Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act that is up for a vote this week in Washington. The act addresses bureaucracy and litigation issues they claim impede federal forest management.
“Managing forests gives us healthier forests, more wildlife, sporting opportunities, jobs and less wildfires,” Gianforte said.
Those in the timber industry welcome action that allows them to get access to more timber with less red tape and less delay.
“We’d love to have a long-term, reliable supply of timber to keep the mill running. It’s really difficult to make an investment in a sawmill when you don’t know what you’ve got ahead of you for the next two or three years,” said Sun Mountain Lumber VP Tony Colter.
Both congressmen blame what they call frivolous litigation, which they claim is impeding the forest management process.
“It’s important we get it passed, it gives us common sense guardrails to limit frivolous lawsuits that are preventing us from managing our forests,” Gianforte said.
Westerman, who is a forester, believes the gridlock has made forests susceptible to large wildfires.
“I say we’ve loved our trees to death, we’ve got to start doing some serious management on these forests if we want to keep the environment healthy and quit putting hundreds of millions of tons of carbon in the atmosphere every year,” Westerman said.
While the Bill has passed out of the House in 2015 and 2016, it has yet to receive approval from the Senate. The act is expected to come up for a vote Wednesday or Thursday.