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Jon T.
Democrat MT

About Sen. Jon
  • Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014—Continued

    by Senator Jon Tester

    Posted on 2014-12-11

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    Read More about Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act of 2014--Continued

    TESTER. I thank the Senator from New Mexico for his comments on the land portion of the national defense authorization. I very much appreciate the work he has done and his hard work fighting for the people of New Mexico since his time in the Senate.

    We thank you very much for your leadership, Senator Heinrich.

    Mr. President, 1 million people live in the great State of Montana. We are home to farmers, ranchers, working families, small business owners, and to bold sports men and women who explore until they are too exhausted to take another step.

    Our lands are famous worldwide, from Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park to wild and scenic rivers such as the North Fork of the Flathead River. We attract the best explorers, the best hunters and anglers, and all those who simply want to get away from it all.

    But our outdoors just aren't for out-of-staters. Montanans deeply value our land. Many Montanans remember their first hunting trip. Many recall where they landed their first trout. I remember riding horses with my father in the Bear Paw Mountains.

    Montanans come with a lot of opinions, but one issue that unites us is taking care of our public lands and keeping our public lands in public hands. We want to make sure our kids and grandkids can hike in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, that they can catch their first fish in the clean waters of the Madison River, and that our outdoor traditions remain strong for generations to come.

    As a Senator from Montana, it is my responsibility to make sure we preserve these treasured places, that we responsibly use our lands to advance the interests of our State and of our country. That is why I am proud to support the Montana lands bills that will probably be voted on tomorrow.

    These bills are a product of years of negotiations. Ranchers and conservationists started working on the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act before I became Senator. These bills are a product of compromise led by folks on the ground--the folks who live and breathe Montana's outdoors every day--and these bills are a product of Montana's congressional delegation working together to move Montana forward.

    We all know Congress fails to agree on much these days. Gridlock and roadblocks are common. Few people are willing to compromise, but when you give a little, you get a lot. That is how Montana's lands bills became a part of this legislation.

    These bills have been vetted on the ground by Montana ranchers such as Dusty Crary, Karl Rappold, and many others. They have been approved by committees and negotiated for many years. They not only deliver on our promises to Montana's ranchers but also to the outdoors men and women, business owners, and Native American tribes. They are Montana- made bills.

    Take the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act for example. This bill protects public access along the Rocky Mountain Front for hunters, anglers, [[Page S6655]] outdoors men and women. The Front is a special place in Montana lore. It is where the Rocky Mountains shoot straight out from the plains into the sky. It is a breathtaking, magnificent sight.

    It is an ecosystem like none other in the lower 48 States. The heritage act designates 208,000 Front acres as a conservation management area, adds another 67,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and supports a noxious weed management plan.

    At the same time, it allows for continued grazing access for Montana ranchers, follows BLM recommendations on approximately 14,000 acres of wilderness study areas, and requires new assessments of oil and gas potential in two others.

    Some will question the details of this bill and others in the package, but Montanans know how to responsibly manage our lands. We know what irresponsible development looks like.

    More than 100 years ago mining corporations pillaged our lands in their search for copper, silver, and other minerals. Not only did they turn our mountains inside out and pollute our waters, they ignored workers' rights and bought influence over Montana's elected leaders.

    In response, Montana passed legislation to limit corporate influence in elections in 1912. We followed that in the 1970s with one of the most progressive State constitutions to date, enshrining protections for a clean and healthy environment into law.

    A fellow by the name of Max Baucus got his first taste of politics during that Constitutional Convention, the same Max Baucus who worked on and introduced the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act in 2011. Passing this land bill helps fulfill Max's legacy in Montana and honors the hard work of his staff and the bill's many supporters.

    Before Max introduced this bill, he received a letter from a rancher along the Front. Ben Pierce was his name. Ben told Max he wanted to see the Front remain a place with both well-managed working ranches and vibrant wildlife values.

    Ben supported the bill because he knew that preserving the ranching culture was critical to Montana's economy and our way of life, but he also supported the bill because he knows we must preserve Montana's most special places.

    That is because Montana's outdoor treasures are not only symbols of our heritage, they are also incredible economic drivers. Montana's outdoor economy, thanks to places such as Glacier and Yellowstone, creates or sustains some 64,000 jobs and contributes nearly $6 billion to the State's economy every year. That is impressive in a State of just 1 million people.

    From outdoor stores to park cafes, Montana's economy thrives when Montana's outdoors are preserved and accessible. Preservation and access are also the cornerstones of the North Fork Protection Act, another legacy of Senator Baucus. The bill permanently protects the American side of the North Fork of the Flathead River watershed by barring future mining or drilling.

    The land is adjacent to Glacier National Park. It is bound by snow- capped mountains, ringed by awe-inspiring valleys, and bisected by beautiful blue-green waters that are home to some of the Nation's best whitewater rafting.

    Its Canadian cousin across the border is already protected. Thanks to this bill, the American side of the watershed will be protected from oil and gas development forever.

    Preserving the North Fork is not only good for the wildlife or the hiker who enjoys it, it is also good for our economy and our nearby communities.

    That is why this bipartisan bill is supported by the local chamber of commerce and by the mayor of nearby Whitefish, who said this bill's passage ``means permanent protection of our community's water supply,'' and we all know how important water is.

    These two measures are not the only bills that will benefit Montana in this lands package.

    My Cabin Fee Act provides economic certainty for folks who have seen their fees skyrocket on Forest Service cabins. Many of these cabins pass from generation to generation, and this bill makes sure family cabins can be enjoyed by those who cherish them.

    This package also does right by our Native American friends. The Northern Cheyenne Lands Act restores the tribe's mineral rights to 5,000 acres within its boundaries, strengthening the tribe's control over its lands, resources, and trust funds.

    It corrects an error that was made by the Federal Government more than 100 years ago. That, in and of itself, makes it a worthy endeavor.

    But there are other areas where we can work together. Just as these bills are Montana-made solutions, we can--and I believe we will--come together over Montana-made solutions to better manage our forests.

    For decades folks in Montana have argued over our lands, battled over access, and we have fought over resource development. We have sued and countersued over logging, but in Montana we haven't had a new wilderness designation in 31 years. Why? Because we haven't been able to compromise, but now we have. It means progress for Montana.

    This agreement is bipartisan, and I was proud to work with Senator Walsh and Senator-elect Daines to bring it to reality. I hope we can find more ways to compromise over lands issues and other legislation moving forward because, after all, it is the future that matters most. Whether this body is debating immigration reform or an education system, how to rebuild infrastructure, we must always look to the future.

    We want the best for ourselves and for our communities. We want to leave this world in better shape than we inherited it, and we want to pass down our treasured lands and outdoor traditions to our kids and our grandkids wherever they may live. Places such as the Rocky Mountain Front and the North Fork are living legacies to Montana's greatness.

    There are many reasons to preserve these places, but the best I have heard comes from Gene Sentz, who hails from Choteau, MT. Gene wrote a book about the Rocky Mountain Front. In it he quoted another Montanan who said: ``Some places on Earth should be left alone, even if solid gold lies beneath it them.'' I couldn't agree more. Montana is home to sky-touching mountains and beautiful plains that roll on as far as the eye can see. It is home to many hard-working men and women and to Native Americans with deep connections to the land.

    But it is the last best place because we are all of these things and because we are willing to work together to preserve and strengthen them.

    I am very proud of this historic agreement, and today I am particularly proud to be a Montanan.

    I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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