From the Office of Senator Jon Tester
U.S. Senator Jon Tester this week pressed U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Chief Randy Moore on the agency’s decision to allow the expansion of a private resort located in the Flathead National Forest in Swan Valley. Tester criticized the Forest Service for attempting to use a categorical exclusion to approve expansion of the resort, which would allow the project to avoid conducting a thorough and public environmental analysis.
Tester also demanded that public input be taken into consideration when authorizing any private project that impacts Montanans.
“Unfortunately—and I do say unfortunately with the strongest of terms— a categorical exclusion was used not to cut trees or not to prevent forest fires, but to allow a corporation to set up…in our national forest a facility that would include a lot of potential devastating impacts,” said Tester. “I can tell you unequivocally, the people were not heard and decisions were made by the Forest Service, by folks on the ground, without taking public input…And if the people wouldn’t have stood up…this project would have been built using a categorical exclusion, by the way, that was meant for cutting trees, not for recreational purposes.”
Tester emphasized that he strongly opposes allowing private corporations to exploit public lands for profit.
“And I am going to tell you that I would never ever ever have voted for a categorical exclusion for the purpose of a corporation becoming rich off our public lands. That is never going to happen. But if you want to use it to protect the community due to wildfire, now that’s why you have a categorical exclusion.”
Tester has led the charge to ensure Missoula County residents and officials have a voice in the proposed Holland Lake Lodge expansion. Last September, Tester sent a letter to Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele demanding the Forest Service extend the public comment period to afford local government and the general public the opportunity to provide informed input on the project. In the letter, Tester stressed the importance of assessing the environmental impacts of the project, as well the potential impacts on the community.