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Senator Tester Slips Bill Calling for Mandatory Logging of Public Lands into Omnibus Spending Bill

This sets a dangerous precedent for forest management, endangers wildlife and amounts to a $140 million gift to the timber industry courtesy of taxpayers.

If you liked what President Barack Obama and his Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar did in the Gulf of Mexico: Leasing 53 million acres in the Gulf during Obama’s first year in office (more than any of his predecessors) and approving 5,106 oil drilling wells there, including 591 deepwater drilling rigs; all with no prior environmental analyses, no public participation, no environmental safeguards, and no restrictions or regulations; thereby creating the worst environmental disaster in the United States of America’s history — then, you’re going to love what Obama and his Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack have planned for the last surviving ecosystem in the U.S. outside of Alaska.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), strongly backed by Obama and Vilscak, has a bill that was written in secrecy by timber industry lawyers and timber industry lobbyists, a bill often referred to as the “Tester Wildlands Logging Bill,” that was unable to withstand scrutiny from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee due to the financial and environmental costs of its Congressionally-mandated logging quotas, but has now somehow magically appeared on pages 893 to 942 of the 1,942-page $1.3 trillion Senate Omnibus Spending Bill.

An analysis of the spending bill headlined Earmarkers Feast on Pork One Last Time Before Diet,” by The Associated Press, reads:

The spending barons on Capitol Hill, long used to muscling past opponents of bills larded with pet projects, are seeking one last victory before tea party-backed GOP insurgents storm Congress intent on ending the good old days of pork-barrel politics. You might call it the last running of the old bulls in Congress.

In the waning days of the lame duck congressional session, Democrats controlling the Senate — in collaboration with a handful of old school Republicans — are pushing to wrap $1.27 trillion worth of unfinished budget work into a single “omnibus” appropriations bill.

Their 1,900-plus-page bill comes to the floor this week stuffed with provisions sought by lawmakers. It contains thousands of pet projects, known as earmarks, pushed by Democratic and GOP senators alike — despite a pledge by Republicans to give up such projects next year.

Matthew Koehler, executive director of the WildWest Institute, called the sudden appearance of Tester’s Wildlands Logging Bill in the “must pass” appropriations measure that funds the federal government for 2011 “underhanded.”

“Let’s get this straight,” Matthew Koehler told the Great Falls Tribune on December 14, 2010. “Senator Tester’s bill never made it out of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate, and was never introduced in the U.S. House. It’s unfortunate that Senator Tester is pursuing such a questionable, and some might say underhanded, tactic to pass this bill. Clearly, if this bill was as great as Senator Tester says it is, he wouldn’t have to resort to this questionable 11th-hour strategy.”

Over the last two years, Tester has used six different names for his bill. Until Tuesday, it was known as the “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.” But, it was inserted into the Senate Omnibus Spending Bill entitled the “Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative.” Whatever it is called, here’s what Tester’s bill does :

1. Designates 660,000 acres, or 6.6 percent to 7.3 percent, of eligible federal (Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) roadless wildlands in Montana as Wilderness, depending on whose numbers are used.

2. Opens 92.7 percent to 93.4 percent of Wilderness-eligible federal roadless wildlands in Montana to roading, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and other industrial development (again, depending on whose numbers are used). Court action will likely determine if any of these roadless wildlands might remain protected under provisions of the Clinton Roadless Rule, the Obama Roadless Initiative, and the Montana Wilderness Study Act. Attorneys familiar with public lands laws disagree on whether or not Tester’s bill conveys what is termed “hard release” of 92.7 percent to 93.4 percent of Wilderness-eligible roadless wildlands. Hard release would exempt all roading, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and other industrial development upon these National Forest and Bureau of Land Management wildlands from all federal environmental, scientific, and public participation laws and regulations.

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