Redefining Conservation in the 21st Century
Advocating for 80,000 acres of new Wilderness around Ovando and Seeley Lake, this grassroots collaborative hammered out a proposal now championed by Sen. Tester
A New Day for the Blackfoot
The fabled headwaters of the Big Blackfoot River are one step closer to being permanently protected for all Americans to enjoy in perpetuity.
On March 2, 2017, Senator Jon Tester introduced 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 in the Ovando and Seeley Lake area. Montana Wilderness Association is a proud member of the BCSP.
The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act will add 80,000 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.
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 80,000 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 commonplace across the Northern Rockies in recent years. But the groundwork for innovative collaboration around the region was laid on the Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest beginning 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 80,000 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: the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.
Shortly after, 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 138 jobs, brought $19 million in federal investments, and led to overall investment of $33 million in the local economy. The SWCC has resulted in 46,222 acres treated for noxious weeds, 23,000 acres of restored forest, 130 miles of stream restoration, and 2,000 miles of multiple use trails maintained.
Eleven Years Strong
Eleen 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.
After completing revisions to the proposal in the fall of 2015, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project earned renewed endorsements from 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 dozens of other businesses, interest groups, collaborative organizations, and elected officials.
In 2016, mocal 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 Missoulian and Helena Independent Record have both editorialized in support, and a 2016 University of Montana poll found Montanans favor the effort by 74%.
How You Can Help
You can help make history by taking action today. First, share your gratitude with Sen. Tester for introducing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act by emailing him or calling (202) 224-2644.
Next, encourage Senator Steve Daines to join in support of this grassroots, made-in-Montana proposal by calling him at (202) 224-2651.
Want to contribute even more? Write a letter to your local Montana newspaper in support of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Western Montana Field Director Zack Porter at email@example.com or at (406) 823-0695.