DEER LODGE — Seven Western Montana national forests hit with insects and disease could get much-needed restoration help from the federal government — if it heeds requests from Gov. Steve Bullock.
The governor has nominated nearly 5 million acres of
forest to the Secretary of Agriculture under the 2014 Farm Bill. The bill allows governors to nominate troubled “landscapes.’’ If those areas are then designated by the agriculture secretary, they will receive “prioritized’’ forest management efforts, according to Bullock.
The nominated areas include acreage in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge, Lolo, Bitterroot, Flathead, Helena-Lewis and Clark, Kootenai and Custer-Gallatin national forests.
The governor had help in determining which areas to nominate: It came from diverse groups who are already working to build forest management projects. These include people from industry, conservation, county commissioners and national forest rangers and supervisors. In southwestern Montana, it included the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Working Group, Sun Mountain Lumber and R-Y Timber.
Some of those participants gathered Monday at Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge.
“We are in survival mode. It isn’t because of the markets, but the lack of timber supply in Montana,’’ said Sherm Anderson, owner of Sun Mountain Lumber. “The national forest comprises 70 percent of all of Montana’s forest lands, but provides less than 10 percent of the harvested timber.”
Sun Mountain Lumber is one of only 11 large sawmills left in the state of Montana. It employs more than 300 people in the mill, logging and as contractors. The sawmill in Deer Lodge ships lumber throughout the nation. Sun Mountain Lumber uses major railroads — Union Pacific, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link. Because of the lack of timber from national forest lands in Montana, Sun Mountain obtains timber from Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.
“I applaud the quick response by our governor to designate priority landscapes,” Anderson said.
Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz said he has worked for more than two years as chairman of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest collaboration committee trying to get beyond the roadblocks.
“The Forest Service spends 50 percent of its declining budget on fighting fires and that needs to change,” Schulz said. “Our forests can provide jobs, opportunities and products, as well as back country recreation and its good for the resource. During the last few years it seems we have found ourselves going backward, but the Farm Bill gives energy to move forward.”
Barb Cestero, Greater Yellowstone Coalition Montana conservation coordinator, said each of the landscapes include communities at risk of fire and restoration needs for fish and wildlife habitat.
Bullock emphasized the need to realize this is a 15-year proposal that will provide flexibility to address forest health and restoration needs, and creates a broad opportunity for Montanans to work together. Still, he hopes that within 90 days federal, state and collaborative partners can begin working together to develop solutions.
“I believe that the Farm Bill Forestry Title represents a tremendous opportunity to move national forest management in Montana beyond the conflict and stagnation of the past two generations,” the governor said. “More effort will be necessary by all of those involved to improve the health of our national forests, but I am optimistic that these nominations are an important first step toward achieving that end.”
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