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Daines continues push on forest collaboration bill

by KATE HESTON
Hagadone News Network | January 18, 2023 12:00 AM

Montana Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines expects a piece of forest management legislation he worked on with California Democrat U.S. Sen. Dianne Fienstein will pass through Congress later this year.

The Root and Stem Authorization Act codifies the authority of the secretaries of the Agriculture and Interior departments to conduct forest restoration projects alongside private landowners and companies – with the goal of facilitating more efficient forest management efforts.

“This act is really going to promote this collaboration effort,” said Tim McEntire, the northwest region representative for the Montana Logging Association, which is based in Kalispell. “That’s how we get good things done – when we’re all after the same goal.”

Daines introduced the bipartisan Root and Stem Act in October 2021 alongside Fienstein. At the end of December 2022, Daines announced the passage of the Act in the Senate.

The legislation did not pass through the U.S. House in the last session, but Daines’ office expects the victory in the Senate to move the Act along in the next Congress, where Republicans now control the House majority.

“My bipartisan Root and Stem Act will help give Montanans a seat at the table when it comes to designing, developing and implementing common sense forest management projects,” Daines said in an email to the Inter Lake. “Collaboration between public and private stakeholders is key because sharing stewardship of our forests will result in healthier forests, safer communities and better environments.”

The idea for the bill stemmed from the success of a lumber company in Washington where they utilized their authority to work with federal agencies to move forestry projects along. The partnership helped accelerate forest projects, a process Daines hopes to replicate across the nation.

“I think mirroring or trying to build on that success is a good thing because we have precedent that this works,” said Julia Altemus of the Montana Woods Products Association.

Companies and state agencies have worked with federal agencies before, but there is currently no legislation cemented that says federal agencies need to help private companies. The Root and Stem Act, as a result, puts the authority into law for the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to work with companies and establish a process to get projects done efficiently.

In a press release, Daines said that the projects that result from this bill will help to create healthier environments, empower rural communities and prevent devastating wildfires.

“The big difference is pace,” said Barry Dexter, the Director of Resources at Stimson Lumber Company. Dexter told the Inter Lake that while Stimson Lumber has worked with federal agencies in the past, Daines’ legislation will assist in moving projects along quicker.

The bill itself does not fund projects or companies — the projects need to be funded by the independent contractors — but upon completion, the companies get a return on their investment. Any excess money will stay in the local communities and go toward infrastructure and forest projects: specifically thinning.

Federal lands in Montana are prone to wildfires, especially in areas where there are a lot of trees in close proximity. Dexter said that is the reason why pace and this legislation are important — thinning the forest will be beneficial for structure owners, wildlife and the landscape itself.

“This [Act] opens up a lot of opportunities,” Altemus told the Inter Lake. Altemus expects a mixture of projects under the Act – logging, as well as restoration work and road reconstruction.

According to McEntire, the restoration projects will work to prevent wildfires and improve the health of Montana forests.

“When it gets down to it, there will be benefits for everyone,” Dexter said.

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