Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte along with USDA Undersecretary James Hubbard held a round table discussion with a group of business and forest products officials for an update on the progress of the U.S. Forest Service’s efforts to manage federal forest lands in western Montana.

Secretary Hubbard acknowledged the reason for his appearance at the Smokejumper headquarters was to listen and learn from Montanans.

“Secretary Purdue likes to concentrate on the main thing,” said Hubbard. “For him the main thing is more active management on the national forests. That’s what he expects us to accomplish and he pays pretty close attention to that. The Forest Service has responded. They’re produced more commercial timber harvests in the last two years than they have in the previous 20 years. It’s still not nearly enough, but it’s on the right track.”

Hubbard added an emphasis on mitigating wildfires.

“Part of that also is to reduce fire risk,” he said. “We can do some land treatment that might make things a little easier on these guys (the forest officials around the table) to reduce that risk to high values, whether that’s timber or communities.”

Hubbard also spoke of the Good Neighbor Authority policy that allows the Forest Service to enter into agreements with state forestry agencies to help keep forests healthy and productive.

“This Good Neighbor approach, it’s about capacity,” he said. “It’s not just about the number of people but the skill sets, so if they do and they’re in the right place then we want to use them. We want to cross that boundary and look at a larger scale of accomplishment and make a difference across that landscape. None of this works very well without the collaborative process, so that’s another emphasis on what we’re trying to do.”

Hubbard also brought up the topic of endless litigation.

“One of my more recent concerns is this litigation,” he said. “We’ve been working on NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and trying to get some reforms there that might help. But now there’s this whole business of an ambiguous new information situation on litigation is a problem, and you saw it in spades here with all the lawsuits that are coming at you. We need to have the courts make some reasonable interpretation that we can anticipate, as opposed to the way it is now where we have no idea where it’s going to go.”

Gianforte and Hubbard were in Missoula to tour the Missoula Smokejumper headquarters and see the new equipment and technology used in fighting wildfires.