Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg said Monday he plans a series of public meetings to solicit ideas for "fixing" legislation from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester that seeks to both expand wilderness and increase logging in Montana.
Tester, a Democrat, introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in July, promoting it as a consensus-driven balance between preserving the environment and creating new jobs.
In a Monday teleconference with reporters, Rehberg said he's heard from constituents saying they were excluded from the drafting of the bill.
Rehberg has not yet endorsed or opposed the measure, considered the first viable attempt to create new wilderness in Montana in more than two decades. He said Monday he will host meetings in five western Montana counties in early January to seek ideas on how the legislation might be improved.
"I need to hear from people," he said. "Does this piece of legislation get us to what we want our forests to look like, what we want our Bureau of Land management property to look like, or does it just do more of the same?"
A spokesman for Tester said the senator would consider any suggested changes to his bill, but he has not received any such requests from Rehberg or his staff.
Spokesman Aaron Murphy also issued a statement rebuffing claims that the bill was crafted in an exclusive manner. His office says Tester has held at least nine listening sessions and public meetings on the bill.
"Jon appreciates Congressman Rehberg listening to Montanans about the issues affecting our forests and the folks who rely on them," Murphy said. "Jon's been doing just that for several years, leading the way on a bill that creates Montana jobs and new recreation areas, and reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfire."
Tester's bill would create more than 600,000 acres of wilderness, mostly in southwestern Montana's Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, and open up 70,000 acres in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge to logging over the next decade.
The aim is to provide a steady source of timber for the state's ailing logging industry following a string of recent mill closures.
More than 330,000 acres go to establish new recreation, protective or special management areas. For the most part, they simply protect current motorized use or other recreation.