Within the Southwestern Crown of the Continent in Montana, the forests and communities of the Blackfoot, Clearwater, and Swan River valleys contain a tapestry of working ranches, private timberlands, craggy mountain peaks, abundant wildlife, and pristine lakes and streams.
But a century-long absence of natural fire, the continued spread of noxious and invasive plants and the degradation of water quality are threatening to unravel the area's famed wildlife habitat and healthy forests.
In 2009, Jon Tester introduced The Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in the Senate, and four years later, in late 2013 the bill will finally get a markup hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee — a crucial step in moving legislation toward a vote of the whole chamber.
It would add about 660,000 acres of new wilderness and 336,000 acres of mixed-use recreation areas to the state. It would also mandate logging and thinning of at least 100,000 acres on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Kootenai national forests over 15 years, as well as an unspecified amount on the Lolo National Forest.
Another program established for managing the forests for the diverse interests of Montana, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, was selected in 2010 to pioneer a new federal program that restores degraded forests and streams while creating jobs. The Collaboration set about improving trails and roads, fighting noxious weeds and reducing hazardous fuels where national forests abut private property.
In May 2011, the group received another $3.5 million and have begun implementing a decade-long restoration strategy to improve forest health while creating rural jobs and improving the economy across the Helena, Lolo and Flathead national forests.
Crews will reduce noxious weeds and fuels in the wildland urban interface, restore degraded water channels and establish a responsible and improved trail and road system. In total 10,000 acres of weeds will be eliminated and 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat, 30 miles of streams, and 350 miles of roads and trails will be restored.
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