The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

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(MWA photo)

Redefining Conservation in the 21st Century 

Advocating for nearly 80,000 acres of new Wilderness around Ovando and Seeley Lake, the grassroots Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project collaborative continues to receive support from Sen. Tester

Renewed Hope for New Wilderness in Western Montana

On June 7, 2019, Senator Jon Tester reintroduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, a grassroots proposal hammered out by the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP). The BCSP is a coalition of local loggers, ranchers, outfitters, conservationists, snowmobilers, business owners, and outdoor recreationists from the Ovando and Seeley Lake area who have stuck together for over a decade to create solutions for their community’s public lands. Montana Wilderness Association is a proud member of the BCSP.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) will add 78,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas and forever safeguard Grizzly Basin, Monture Creek, the North Fork of the Blackfoot River, and the West Fork of the Clearwater. Permanent protection of the Blackfoot River's most important tributaries will help preserve the health of the entire Blackfoot River watershed, as explained in a short film MWA produced called "Hallowed Waters: The Legacy and Lifeblood of the Big Blackfoot." Watch "Hallowed Waters" now

The BCSP has shown how Montanans come together to protect water and land we care about and want to protect for future generations. In fact, 73% of Montanans support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. Now it’s time for Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte to also support the bill. Help us make that request by endorsing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

How it All Began

In 2005, snowmobilers and wilderness advocates in Seeley Lake agreed to a proposal that added more wilderness in exchange for an established winter recreation area. The occasion was momentous because it broke years of contention.

Soon after that 2005 agreement, the group began attracting outfitters, wildlife advocates, community leaders, and timber industry representatives. By 2008, the group reached consensus on a suite of forest management goals, including the addition of 78,000 acres to the Mission Mountains, Scapegoat, and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas, a move that would safeguard the West Fork of the Clearwater River (a stream crucial for bull trout) and the wildlife-rich slopes of the Swan Range above Seeley Lake. 

The story of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project – a story of neighbors working together to find common ground – has become a model for solution building across the Northern Rockies in recent years. It all started on the Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest in 2005.

Our Vision for the Future

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project promotes cooperative public-private stewardship across the southwestern Crown of the Continent. For this iconic part of Montana, that means restoring forests, promoting recreation opportunities, and forever protecting habitat for grizzly bears, westslope cutthroat trout, and the largest herd of mountain goats in the vicinity of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Our proposal includes legal and financial support for forest stewardship and restoration, permanent congressional designations for 78,000 acres of agency-Recommended Wilderness on the Lolo National Forest, and expanded snowmobile and mountain bike opportunities between Seeley Lake and Lincoln.

Steps to Success

In July 2009, Sen. Jon Tester stood in front of the Seeley Lake Chamber of Commerce and announced that he had selected our proposal as one of three he would wrap into a new bill to break the stalemate on Montana’s public lands.

Shortly thereafter, the collaborative achieved one of its primary goals: getting the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLR) passed through Congress. This program creates funding opportunities for forest restoration and launched the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCC). To date, the SWCC has created or maintained an average of 140 jobs, brought $23 million in federal investments, and led to overall investment of $36 million in the local economy. The SWCC has resulted in 52,214 acres treated for noxious weeds, 172 miles of stream restoration, and 2,000 miles of multiple use trails maintained.

Thirteen Years Strong

Thirteen years after residents of Seeley Lake and Ovando took the gamble of working together rather than against each other, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project is stronger than ever and has become the gold standard for collaborative efforts in the West. 

The project is endorsed by all three impacted counties. Additional endorsements include the Missoula and Seeley Lake Chambers of Commerce, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, the Montana Association of Christians, Seeley Lake Community Council, Missoula Central Labor Council, and over a hundred other businesses, interest groups, collaborative organizations, and elected officials. 

In 2016, 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 will 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 Missoulian and Helena Independent Record have both editorialized in support, and a 2018 University of Montana poll found Montanans favor the effort by 73%.

How You Can Help

Help us in thanking Senator Tester for reintroducing the BCSA in 2019 and join us in asking Senator Daines and Congressman Gianforte to support the bill by endorsing the bill here

And if you haven’t contributed to MWA in a while, now is a great time to pitch in $10, $40, $100, or whatever amount is right for you so that we can get this bill passed and add 78,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, including the Swan Front, Grizzly Basin, Monture Creek, North Fork of the Blackfoot, and West Fork of the Clearwater.

Donate now.

For more information or to volunteer on behalf of the BCSP, contact Western Montana Field Director Erin Clark at or at (406) 823-0477.