Tester listens to local forest management concerns
Meeting with Senator Tester
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester listens to local concerns during a panel discussion Saturday at Libby City Hall. Seated to Testerís right are (from left) Lincoln County Commissioner Tony Berget, Paul Rumelhart and Noel Williams. In foreground are Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Paul Bradford and Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. Photo by Kootenai Valley Record.
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
April 24, 2009
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester listened to local concerns about the timber industry and forest management during a visit to Libby on Saturday.
After touring St. Johnís Lutheran Hospital and the Kootenai Business Park Industrial District, Tester hosted a panel discussion with representatives of local government, economic development agencies and the timber industry.
The panel included county commissioners Tony Berget and Marianne Roose, Libby Mayor Doug Roll, Troy Mayor Jim Hammons, former county commissioner and current consultant to the county on natural resource issues Noel Williams, Paul Rumelhart of the Kootenai River Development Council, Tracy McIntyre of Eureka Rural Development Partners, Kootenai National Forest Supervisor Paul Bradford, Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, and loggers Kurt Rayson and Paul Tisher.
"Itís important for me to stay close to the folks who are on the ground trying to make a living to see what we can do to turn the economy around," Tester said.
Tester expressed optimism about legislation sponsored by state Rep. Chas Vincent that would create a $10 million revolving loan fund for the timber industry.
"Thatís good news," he said. "Iíve got full confidence that Representative Vincent will get that bill through the process."
Rayson told Tester that since Plum Creek laid off many local loggers, most of the work in Lincoln County is being done by crews from Idaho.
"Thatís hard to swallow," he said. "We live here, but we canít work here."
All of the wood that is being cut in Lincoln County is going outside the area, Tisher added.
"I think infrastructure is our biggest issue here in Lincoln County," he said. "We donít have any conversion facilities left."
Most loggers would support the creation of new wilderness areas as long as they would get some guarantees in return, Tisher said.
Berget expressed concerns about lawsuits delaying timber sales on the Kootenai National Forest and suggested those filing suit should have to post bond.
"Tying things up for years and years and years for 25 bucks doesnít seem fair to me," he said.
King asked Tester to support the Three Rivers Challenge, proposed legislation drafted by a diverse local group that includes protection for wild places and recreation as well as creation of timber industry jobs through stewardship projects.
"Just to put it bluntly, we need boots and chain saws and skidders on the ground to do the work," she said.
The proposal includes a mediated appeals process to settle disputes "on the ground instead of in the courtroom" King said.
Williams said he started commuting to Libby in the 1980s, and since then the log trucks, crew cab pickups and lowboys hauling equipment on the highway have all but disappeared.
"And all of this smack in the middle of the most productive forest in the Inland Northwest," he said. "What happened?"
Williams asked Tester to use his authority to help reverse the problem of excessive litigation and regulations preventing land managers from doing their jobs.
McIntyre told Tester her group is working on a proposal to bring small-diameter mills to the Eureka area and to encourage businesses to work together, "building a business on top of another business."
Rumelhart said he believes the best jobs in the timber industry havenít been developed yet. He said thereís an untapped potential for wood fiber that will drive the local economy in the future.
"I think thereís a tremendous future for fiber," he said. "I donít have a clue what it is."
Something needs to be done to get loggers back into the woods, Hammons said.
"Itís a win-win situation when we manage the forest," he said. "And this forest is not being managed."
Bradford noted a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision against environmentalists who sued to stop nine projects on the Kootenai over old growth and other issues. He said he thinks grizzly habitat will be the main focus of future lawsuits.
"I can guarantee you we will be challenged on those issues," he said.
Roll called lawsuits filed by environmental groups outside the area "very bothersome."
"Itís not a local issue anymore," he said. "Itís somebody from New York or California or whatever."
Editorís Note: See the April 21, 2009 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, now on Tuesday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.