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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Dec 13 2016

Big Boost for the BCSP

Support for Wilderness proposal broadens as national and local mountain biking groups come on board

Announcements, Featured

In November, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP) celebrated a long-sought agreement with national and state-based mountain bicycling organizations to protect clean water, wildlife, and recreation on National Forest land in Montana’s Blackfoot River Valley. Local members of the BCSP reached an agreement with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, the Montana Mountain Biking Alliance, and local mountain biking club MTB Missoula on the BCSP’s legislative proposal. The agreement would ensure new backcountry cycling opportunities while continuing to protect secure habitat and free-flowing headwaters. All three of these mountain biking groups now endorse the BCSP.

The BCSP began over a decade ago with conservationists, mill operators, snowmobilers, and outfitters in the Seeley Lake and Ovando area searching for local, collaborative solutions to the management of public lands in their backyard. This agreement with bicyclists serves as the latest example of the success folks have when they recognize there is room enough for everyone on our public lands and focus on what they can agree on rather than what they can’t.

If passed by Congress, the Blackfoot Clearwater proposal would permanently protect the headwaters of Montana’s famous Blackfoot River including Monture Creek, the West Fork of the Clearwater, and Morrell Creek in the high country of Grizzly Basin. Theses streams and the 80,000 acres of wild county they cross would be included in the Scapegoat, Mission Mountains, and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas.
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“This is an ongoing story of neighbors working together for something greater than what we could accomplish alone.” - MWA President Lee Boman

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The proposal now ensures continued bicycle access by creating a new Recreation Management Area that includes Spread Mountain, Center Ridge, and Camp Pass trails, as well as a recommendation for new connector trails to limit conflict with other users, including outfitters, equestrians, and hikers. The newly proposed management area also prohibits mining, logging, and motorized vehicles so the next generation of Montanans can enjoy the same quiet backcountry that exists today.

“This is an ongoing story of neighbors working together for something greater than what we could accomplish alone,” said Lee Boman, MWA president and Blackfoot Clearwater steering committee member. “We are immensely proud of what we’ve been able to create for the future of our public lands and for our communities.”

This recent agreement is an example of MWA’s long-standing position that wilderness advocates can work with loggers, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, and other recreationists to protect our remaining wildlands and also create new recreation opportunities across Montana.

More importantly, this proposal points to a growing trend of bicyclists and wilderness advocates working together in Montana to create lasting solutions that maintain access to high-quality recreational experiences, while protecting new wilderness areas that provide solitude and secure habitat.

Conservationists, backcountry horsemen, ranchers, loggers, motorized users, and mountain bikers have successfully worked together on solutions to public lands challenges on the Rocky Mountain Front near Choteau, the Continental Divide near Butte and Helena and now, the Blackfoot-Clearwater. These efforts have resulted in innovative, collaborative proposals that both protect wilderness and provide access to trails for mountain bikes.

Unfortunately, some mountain bikers are urging their Congressmen and women to amend the Wilderness Act to allow bicycles. Now, there is a bill in Congress that does just that.

Earlier this year, Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch of Utah, both with lifetime scores of 10% from the League of Conservation Voters, introduced the Human-Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act (S. 3205), a bill that would open up America’s wilderness areas to the exact thing they are designed to guard against – advances in technology.
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No matter what some politicians want us to think, our public lands are not places of debate and division. Instead, they serve as a gathering place for all people in search of solitude and in need of refuge from the demands and divisive pressures of the modern, changing world.

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S. 3205, also known as the “Bikes in Wilderness” bill, would not only open wilderness areas, such as Montana’s Bob Marshall or Absaroka-Beartooth, to mechanized recreation, but also unlimited use of motorized equipment.

While S. 3205 undermines the very idea of wilderness, it also would make solutions over public land management much harder to achieve by pitting mountain bikers against other backcountry travelers, including backpackers, hikers, equestrians, and sportsmen and women.

But let’s be clear, S. 3205 is about more than bicycle access. It’s about overturning 50-plus years of precedent and wilderness management that keeps the Lee Metcalf, the Scapegoat, the Cabinet Mountains, and other wilderness areas free of “mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment,” as Howard Zahniser, author of the Wilderness Act, put it.

No matter what some politicians want us to think, our public lands are not places of debate and division. Instead, they serve as a gathering place for all people in search of solitude and in need of refuge from the demands and divisive pressures of the modern, changing world. Our wilderness heritage unites us – and that’s the point.

At MWA, we believe we’re better together. We believe, by working together, we can protect Montana’s wilderness heritage while ensuring access to high-quality mountain biking access on public land. The Blackfoot-Clearwater project is proof.

Montanans are committed to finding solutions on the ground that continue to bring us together, and we look forward to working with our congressional delegation to see this collaborative proposal for the Blackfoot-Clearwater signed into law.

Please let our congressional delegation know that you too support the Blackfoot Clearwater proposal.

- John Todd, MWA conservation director