Senator Daines, you have been in the press a lot lately; 1) on the need for forest management reform to reduce the risk of wildfire and 2) about the high-tech industry conference you recently held in Missoula.

Thank you for promoting a call for action to solve Montana’s problems. You make valid points regarding Montana’s technology revolution and the good high-paying jobs it could bring.

In contrast, your statements about wildfires and forest “mismanagement” fall short and oversimplify a complex subject. The mailbox flyer you recently sent us is rife with misleading statements. For example, you assert that eliminating citizens’ right to challenge the federal government and give the state decision authority over national forests would pave the way for more and cheaper timber sales; lead to more logging jobs; and eliminate wildfires. Sounds good in theory, but just like building a high tech industry, it’s not that simple.

Since how National Forests are managed affects all Western Montanans, I hoped you would listen to everyone’s views, as well as consult the wealth of scientific data and studies that are readily available before you draft legislation. However, your flyer states …”A healthy forest is a managed forest— and we’re done listening to those who tell us otherwise.” This suggests that you are not serious about seeking facts or listening to opposing views. Although you say the recent wildfires are a result of forest “mismanagement,” you fail to state why. One cannot judge whether our forests are being properly managed without clearly defined objectives.

In your guest column on bringing high-tech to Montana you say: “You don’t have to trade the great Montana way of life, our hiking, fly-fishing and hunting, to have a good-paying job. Technology has removed geography as a constraint to business and Montana is realizing those benefits.” Similarly, we should not use up our public land assets that attract such businesses.

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Polls suggest that industry leaders repeatedly admit the quality of our environment is a bankable commodity. We all know that our quality of life here is largely created by living close to national forests. How we manage our forests influences whether high-tech companies choose to locate here.

So Senator Daines, why not sponsor a summit that explores not only what kind of technology infrastructure we need to support a high-tech economy, but what kind of National Forest management programs and priorities we need as well? Why not seek expert advice on how we can reduce the fire risk while simultaneously creating healthy forests that protect the environmental qualities that would attract high-tech companies to invest in Montana? It should be possible to maintain highly valued recreation opportunities, scenic quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat and reduce the fire risk. We can have high-tech jobs and jobs in the woods to reduce fuels. Yes, I think we can have our cake and eat it too. However, we must be willing to listen to all sides of an issue. How about it, Senator Daines?

I am doing my part by hosting a series of lectures on Fire and Forest Management at the North Ravalli County Library in Stevensville, Montana, this November. How about you host a conference of high-tech industry and natural resource leaders that, instead of looking backwards to the '50s and '60s, look to the future. We need a new paradigm that manages the assets of our National Forests to benefit all Americans while attracting new high-tech jobs for Montanans.

– Margaret Gorski

Stevensville, MT