“It’s comprehensive forest management and it address the growing economic and environmental threats of catastrophic wildfires,” Gianforte said. “It streamlines environmental reviews so we can blunt the effect of these environmental extremists who have never seen a project they liked.”

Martin Kidston

Missoula Current

Montana’s Republican delegation to Congress on Wednesday praised provisions included in the 2018 federal spending bill that address forest management, including a partial overturning of the Cottonwood decision and efforts to streamline timber projects.

Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte said the reforms, which will also fund the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting expenses from a separate account, represent a start in improving the health of the nation’s forests.

“What’s been going on has been called fire borrowing,” Gianforte said. “In bad fire years, most of the operating budget for the Forest Service gets consumed with fighting fires. Because we’re opening up disaster relief funds that are not part of the the existing Forest Service budget, it essentially increases the amount of dollars available to the Forest Service.”

Daines and Gianforte, along with Sen. Jon Tester who also praised the provisions in the omnibus bill, said funding forest fires like any other natural disaster will enable the Forest Service to direct its budget to forest management, including forest health and recreation.

Daines said the new provisions will also streamline projects by permitting new categorical exclusions for hazardous fuel reduction, meaning less paperwork stemming from environmental reviews.

It also includes a partial overturning of the so-called Cottonwood decision, a case that involved habitat critical to the survival of the Canada lynx in Montana. In that case, the Forest Service was found to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“This is a decision that has been devastating for our timber industry in Montana,” Daines said. “By passing this (omnibus) bill, it reverses that decision. Unfortunately, fringe litigators, our radical environmental extremists, are stopping common-sense forest management projects that would help reduce the threat of wildfires.”

While the two Republican lawmakers view the provisions included in the omnibus bill as a step in the right direction, Gianforte said other needed reforms were left out, including those in his Resilient Federal Forests Act.

“It’s comprehensive forest management and it address the growing economic and environmental threats of catastrophic wildfires,” Gianforte said. “It streamlines environmental reviews so we can blunt the effect of these environmental extremists who have never seen a project they liked.”

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