Missoulian: Rehberg, work with Tester and Baucus on forest bill

I’m a fourth-generation Montanan from Boulder. My great-grandfather, with my then-4-year-old grandpa in tow, moved to Montana to mine in the Elkhorn Mountains. My father, and my four siblings and I were all born and raised in the Boulder Valley surrounded by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. My mother was born in Butte, where her Irish father worked in the mines and then opened a neighborhood grocery store on Aluminum Street.

Like many Montanans, I have never fit very neatly into a single category. For the past 24 years I’ve had the incredible good fortune of being a backcountry ski guiding, wood products mill working, backpacking, snowmobiling, kayaking, ATV riding, trail running, chemical engineering, music playing, rifle shooting, mountain bike riding, chain saw operating Missoulian. I’ve never taken for granted being able make a living and a great life in my home state.

I very much wanted to attend one of Rep. Denny Rehberg’s listening sessions on Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. However, on the days of Rehberg’s Deerlodge and Philipsburg listening sessions, I was working to shut down the Smurfit-Stone mill in Frenchtown. Unfortunately, I am one of the 417 Smurfit Stone Container employees who lost their jobs when the Missoula mill closed. I’m one of those folks who, when asked the question, “What are you going to do next?” must start their answer with, “Well, I really want to stay in Montana, but …”

I wanted to tell Rehberg that the urgency surrounding forest management decisions has reached crisis levels in western Montana. Our jobs and our forests are in serious peril. This is certainly true for my friends and co-workers at Smurfit-Stone. It is also true for the estimated 1,000-1,500 Montanans who will lose their jobs due to the mill closure. Here in Missoula, we’ve already seen the consequences of the closure affect Montana Rail Link.

I have actively supported Tester’s FJRA. I haven’t done this because it’s a perfect bill. Certainly, given the opportunity, I would write a very different version of this legislation. I suspect that this is true of all the partners who have joined together in this collaborative effort. Rather, I support the bill because I applaud the effort and vision of those partners who have looked beyond their own self-interest to find solutions that can be supported by a wider range of viewpoints.

Tester has shown real leadership and has taken considerable political risk in listening to Montanans and moving beyond the status quo to support these collaborative efforts. I urge Montanans of all viewpoints to voice support for his good faith efforts. While you are at it, don’t forget to take a look at the incredibly diverse list supporters of the partnerships represented in this bill.

When I speak with forestry professionals, I repeatedly hear a call for more effective forest management, especially on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. In my discussions with fellow engineering professionals and business leaders, I hear about innovative solutions such as bio-refineries and bio-energy. When I speak with folks in the conservation community, I see a commitment to work towards solutions that benefit wood product producers and improve and protect our forests. While creating positive change is difficult, it’s a safe bet that the best path forward is not the divisiveness that got us here.

I thank Rehberg for joining the discussion on the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. I suggest that he come to Missoula to hear what we think and add our input to what he has heard in his listening sessions. During his listening tour, Rehberg only visited one town with a mill. By visiting Missoula County, I think Rehberg could gain insight on the importance of making progress by working together instead of upholding the status quo of stalemate and conflict.

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