U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said Tuesday he is still evaluating a plan from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that aims to both expand wilderness and increase logging in Montana.
The bill was the big topic among attendees at a town hall meeting that Rehberg held in Townsend, while the health care overhaul gripping Washington D.C. barely came up.
Rehberg told the crowd that he agrees more logging is truly needed. But he wants to make sure the proposed legislation from Tester will be able to assure an increase in logging.
The crowd was mixed on the issue, and Rehberg was asked alternately to help support and help oppose it.
The measure would add more than 600,000 acres of wilderness, mostly in southwestern Montana's Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. But it also designates large swaths of land as open for logging and sets aside other areas as permanent recreation areas for motorized and other uses.
Ed Regan, who runs Townsend's RY Timber and helped craft the compromise that led to Tester's bill, said it aims to break through years of legal bickering between environmentalists and loggers.
Rehberg said he understood the motivations behind the bill and that he is spending a lot of his time looking at the bill. He also said he plans on meeting with all interested parties, including those groups who have felt left out, before he makes any decisions on the bill.
Rehberg said he wants to make sure the bill can prevent outside groups from suing to block logging projects, that it is not just an incremental step to more wilderness designation and that it doesn't monkey with complicated water rights in the region.
Rehberg, touching on several other issues, assured a mostly supportive crowd that he will continue to oppose a Democratic majority in Washington on such issues as cap and trade, costly health care overhaul plans, ineffective stimulus spending and big deficit spending.
Rehberg said fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats have been an important ally in such fights.
"That's what gives me heartburn and keeps me up at night, this ever growing debt," Rehberg said. "And then I get criticized from the other side for voting no."