Gianforte talks Good Neighbor Authority with state, federal foresters – The Missoulian

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Gianforte talks Good Neighbor Authority with state, federal foresters


Rep. Greg Gianforte

Rep. Greg Gianforte addresses the Montana House of Representatives in December 2019.

THOM BRIDGE, Independent Record

U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte came to Missoula Tuesday to learn how state and federal foresters are working together. 

“I’m here to listen,” the Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate told a group of state and federal forest managers at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Technology and Development Center, near the city’s airport.

Their meeting focused on the Good Neighbor Policy. First created in 2014, it allows the Forest Service to contract with states and counties for forest management on federal and non-federal lands.

“I would say overall, here in Montana for Good Neighbor Authority, it’s actually gone really well,” said Forest Service Regional Forester Leanne Marten. “We are working very well together with the state.” She said that for this year and next year, the Forest Service has 14 projects for 55 million board-feet of timber planned under the agreement.

“It’s really given us the flexibility to do more restoration work on the ground for the health of the forest, the communities, jobs, economy,” she said.

Sonya Germann, state forester with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, called Good Neighbor Authority programs “our opportunity to lend a hand to our federal partners to get a lot of that work done.”

During his visit to Missoula, Gianforte’s staff restricted media to asking questions about the topic of forest management, and only allowed each reporter to speak with him for 3 minutes. The meeting with state and federal foresters was initially closed to press, a decision that the Forest Service said was made for the comfort of their staff and had not been requested by the congressman. After inquiries from the Missoulian, it was opened to the media.

During the 23-minute discussion, they and other Forest Service Staff discussed room for improvement in ways that the federal, state and local governments share revenue from Good Neighbor Authority projects. Missoula Technology and Development Center staff then took Gianforte on a tour of the facility, showing him its recent developments in forestry and firefighting technology.

“I was encouraged to hear that we have a bunch of Good Neighbor Authority (projects) in the state,” he told the Missoulian afterwards. “I think we got positive feedback today on the benefits of the program. We have to continue to look for ways to return our forests to a healthy state.”

Good Neighbor Authority has drawn criticism in the six years since it was introduced. In 2017, the Washington, D.C.-based environmental group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility accused the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Department of Forestry of seriously mismanaging a Good Neighbor Authority project in the Tongass National Forest.

Separately, an ongoing lawsuit by Alliance for the Wild Rockies alleges that a Good Neighbor Authority Project in Idaho Panhandle National Forest violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal environmental laws.

In situations like these, Gianforte faulted the litigants rather than the government agencies tasked with following the law. “The goal of the Good Neighbor Authority is to return us to healthy forests. There are those that all they do is to produce lawsuits. They are obstructionists, and I would invite them to come to the table and collaborate so we have healthier forests instead of litigating all the time.”