- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - Montana farmers are already drawing up their lists for things they’d like to see in the next congressional farm bill, including proposals that include forest management changes for the state’s timber industry.

Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is asking for suggestions for the bill that expires in September 2018 after members of the Montana farming and ranching community expressed concerns because many programs critical to Montana agriculture have been cut in recent years. Among the reductions is access to the Conservation Reserve Program that allows farmers to take agricultural land out of production for ecological reasons without hurting their businesses.

Exclusions allow Forest Service planners to avoid extensive analysis of timber projects that involve routine or uncontroversial activity. Projects that have group consensus also get access to special funding or administrative streamlining, the Missoulian reported (https://tinyurl.com/hf2bgl9).

People also cited conflicting federal rules that prohibit road reconstruction in large-landscape timber projects.

Wilderness advocates were frustrated because there was no panel to discuss recreation or non-commercial use of public land.

Blackfoot rancher Jim Stone said improvements are needed to fix the way the federal government manages invasive weed control programs.

Montana State Forester Bob Harrington said many Montanans want to keep provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill like the Good Neighbor Authority that enables state agencies to help manage nearby federal lands, allowing Montana lawmakers to invest $2 million.

“We had no idea that the forestry titles (in the bill) would be so robust,” Harrington said. “This state has really leaned into taking advantage of the Good Neighbor Authority more than any other state in the country.”

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