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Feb 21 2017

A Big Day for the Blackfoot

Sen. Tester announces he’ll introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

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On a beautiful July weekend last year, my wife and I brought our (then) six-week-old daughter on an exploration of wild Grizzly Basin in the southern Swan Range. Camped beside a heavenly sub-alpine tarn, we watched a rainbow form over the valley below as an afternoon storm cleared. Later in the evening, mountain bluebirds flitted about the whitebark pines and alpine larch while we investigated overturned boulders and logs: sure sign of recent grizzly bear activity.

This area was inexplicably omitted from the Bob Marshall Wilderness when it was designated more than 50 years ago. Thanks to Sen. Jon Tester, that mistake could soon be rectified.

Today, Sen. Tester announced that he will soon introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA), which would add Grizzly Basin and the wild Swan Front to the Bob. It would also add the North Fork of the Blackfoot and Monture Creek to the Scapegoat Wilderness and the West Fork of the Clearwater to the Mission Mountain Wilderness. The headwaters of the Blackfoot River, made famous by Norman Maclean’s "A River Runs Through It," are one step closer to being permanently protected for all Americans to enjoy in perpetuity.

Speaking at a gathering of more than a hundred at Rich family's Montana Guest Ranch in Seeley Lake, Sen. Tester applauded the trend-setting, collaborative work that made this legislation possible. Montana Wilderness Association has been working on this proposal with our partners in the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project since this collaborative formed more than ten years ago in the Seeley Lake and Ovando area.

"This is a great opportunity to see how democracy works," Sen. Tester told around 50 Seeley Lake Middle School students who attended the event. "We're here today for you."

Don’t let this moment to make history slip by – take action today by sharing your gratitude with Sen. Tester for listening to Montanans and championing this bill that will help further our outdoor heritage and permanently protect some of the wildest places in our state.

The introduction of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for most Montanans. The multi-year effort has been in the headlines since 2006 and has enjoyed the support of a diverse cross section of businesses, organizations, and elected officials.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project’s three main components include:

  • Wilderness: A total of 80,000 acres would be added to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas. The North Fork of the Blackfoot River, Monture Creek, Grizzly Basin, and the West Fork of the Clearwater River are among the many high-value areas that would be permanently protected, securing habitat for fish and wildlife and ensuring quiet recreation.
  • Recreation: The bill designates the 1,900-acre Otatsy Recreation Management Area for winter snowmobile use near Ovando. It also creates the Spread Mountain Recreational Area, preserving mountain bike access along Spread Mountain, Center Ridge, and Camp Pass trails. The bill will instruct the Forest Service to recommend new connector trails to limit conflict with other users, including outfitters, equestrians, and hikers. The bill also instructs the Forest Service to conduct a trails development study that looks at opportunities to expand other recreation opportunities in non-Wilderness landscapes.
  • Restoration: The bill promotes restoration of fish and wildlife habitat and supports a sustainable timber economy in Seeley Lake. To date, with the help of Sen. Jon Tester, this has been accomplished through the Southwest Crown Collaborative (SWCC). The SWCC has created or maintained 160 jobs by injecting $56 million into the regional economy since 2010. Projects developed through the SWCC have treated 46,222 acres of noxious weeds, restored 129 miles of streambed, and made improvements to nearly 2,000 miles of trail.

Guiding the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project forward is a diverse group including local business owners, retired Forest Service officials, and representatives from Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, Seeley Lake Driftriders Snowmobile Club, Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters, and Rich Ranch Outfitting, among others.

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 have also come from 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. The Missoulian and Helena Independent Record has editorialized in support of the proposal, and a recent poll by the University of Montana found Montanans favor the effort by a three-to-one margin.

This is a great day for Montanans, one I’ll look back on as the day we took a huge step forward in ensuring that my daughter – and your children and grandchildren – will be able to enjoy serenity and wildness decades from now that we experienced in Grizzly Basin last summer.

- Zack Porter, MWA western Montana field director