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Agriculture Secretary introduces "blueprint for modernization" during Missoula stop

Posted at 6:30 AM, Jun 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-14 08:30:18-04

U-S Agriculture Secretary uses a Missoula stop to sign a new "blueprint" for modernizing operations and policies for the Forest Service, saying it's a way to keep the agency more responsive to local communities.

However, the "memorandum of understanding" is already drawing some criticism from environmental groups.

"We have bubble wrapped ourselves in so much bubble wrap that we're not getting a lot of things done," said US Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue. "And we took the intent of Congress in a very risk inverse agency and just kind of continued to bubble wrap their intent where we kind of became paralyzed about the lot of things we needed to do."

Criticism of the past approach to public lands management, mixed with praise for recent work.

That's the theme of U-S Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's appearance at the Forest Service's Region 1 headquarters Friday.

Perdue was in Missoula to sign a memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service, shoring up the theme of the Trump Administration.

A call to reduce regulations, modernizing management, improve renewals for grazing permits, improve forest access and even build rural broadband.

"I'm proud of the progress that we've made toward active forest management and reducing hazardous fuels and working across boundaries, increasing the resiliency of our nation's forests and grasslands," said Perdue.

Local leaders and groups offered their support for past and future reforms.

Perdue's visit was the first since the terrible 2017 fire season when a million Montana acres burned.

At the time, he also called for management reforms and more active timber management.

Three years later, after an initial flurry of fire salvage logging, local timber sales remain slow, although over the past decade overall volume in the Northern Region has increased roughly fourfold.

"We've seen it creeping up," said Perdue. "I want to continue to go vertical in acceleration. I think what we're formalizing here today is really a formalization of what we've been working on for three years. And I think you'll continue to see progress."

Environmental groups like WildEarth Guardians were quick to denounce the order, accusing Perdue and the Administration of "undermining our nation's bedrock environmental laws"

Secretary Perdue was quick to say though that this memorandum of understanding isn't a means of gutting environmental regulations or precautions.

"This is not cutting corners environmentally," said Perdue. "It's doing things more speedily, and given even our, even the people who want to have advocates in here having their say in a cooperative way."

Montana's Congressional delegation are all expressing support for Perdue's positions, although Senator Jon Tester said it was a "continuation" of the work that's been underway to find a "path forward" for Montana. But he said the Forest Service still needs more "capacity" for public lands management.