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From Montana’s Forests to the State Legislature to Stand Up for Timber Harvesters

In the summer of 1998, I was working as a timber faller north of Happy’s Inn, and we got a visit from our MLA safety guy. During our conversation, he told me they were looking for someone to cover eastern Montana. I applied, and my young family and I moved to Harlowton, MT, a few months later. It was a switch, changing from the application side of logging to the policy side, but I remember being very surprised by how much policy and politics can affect someone’s living and way of life. After five years of working for the MLA, I would find myself in a suit and tie at our state capital, representing the MLA in front of our legislature. I was given some good advice early on from my boss about being a lobbyist, and that was, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, keep your mouth shut” and, of course, “always tell the truth…. if you don’t know the answer, find out and then answer.” I was turned loose with these bits of advice and a cell phone.

I was blown away as I watched and got involved in the legislative process of just how important it is to be involved. After that first session, I came out with a new respect for our citizen legislature and a genuine appreciation of how important it is to be an educated voter. I also learned how important it is to reach out during the session to your representative or senator about issues on the agenda. They are there to represent you; if they have yet to hear from you, it is hard to expect good results!

Over the years, I have witnessed some neat things from a policy standpoint. Many of these policies have made a massive difference in our industry, including significant work comp reform and some promising reductions in the business equipment tax, which is a big deal for a logging contractor. I have seen bills allowing the MEPA (Montana Environmental Policy Act) to be litigated like NEPA is for USFS. Just this piece of legislation alone could have axed or severely imperiled the Montana DNRC’s timber program. We could not keep

going without the 60mmbf +- they put up each year. I have seen bills that would have driven up work comp by huge numbers or taxes that would have cost a logger thousands of dollars per year.

All these bills, both good and bad, are not that uncommon during a session. The citizen legislature that we elect is faced with tough decisions every day. My job as a lobbyist is to give them facts about the logging industry to help make those decisions after hearing our side of the story. I have had the pleasure of working for some very fine folks over the years in the MLA. They have shown up to testify at legislative hearings and constantly guide the direction we are going positively. It has been a few years since that first session in 2005, but I still marvel at the process of the Montana Legislature. Although political, both sides can generally have a conversation and get the work done.

I will end this with a quote that is not mine - “politics is not a spectator sport,” so you must dive in and get involved.

The Montana Logging Association is a strong voice for Montana’s timber harvesting industry professionals, representing the interests and advocating on behalf of more than 500 members in state and federal legislative matters. Jason Todhunter is MLA’s representative in the Montana legislature and works relentlessly to stand up for timber harvesters and haulers.

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