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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Dec 08 2015

Pulling Together for the Blackfoot

The time is ripe for permanently protecting special areas in the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys

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The North Fork of the Blackfoot. Monture Creek. The wild Swan Front. Grizzly Basin. The West Fork of the Clearwater.

These names are synonymous with wilderness in Montana. And to most who gaze up at the ramparts of the Swan Range or at the deep green of Monture Valley from the communities of Seeley Lake and Ovando, these places might as well be parts of the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.

In fact, for much of the last half-century, the Lolo National Forest has managed these wildlife-rich landscapes as if they were big W, Congressionally- designated Wilderness areas. But there’s the rub: these iconic landmarks of the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys have no permanent protection, because Congress has never given them its blessing. The status of these places can change with the stroke of a pen.

That’s far too much uncertainty for the future of the southwest Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, the beating heart of the Northern Rockies and one of the world’s premier wild areas, encompassing the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Glacier National Park, and surrounding areas in the US and Canada. From bull trout spawning beds in the West Fork Clearwater River, to mountain goat breeding grounds at the upper reaches of Dunham and Lodgepole Creeks, to jagged ridgelines custom-made for wolverines, the Southwest Crown is a landscape brimming with wildness.

That’s why we’re celebrating 10 years of innovative and trend-setting collaboration in the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project and doubling-down on our commitment to Wilderness for this irreplaceable gem of wild America.

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

  1. Wilderness: A total of 83,000 acres would be added to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas.
  2. Recreation: The 1,900-acre Otatsy Recreation Management Area near Ovando would be designated for winter snowmobile use. Our proposal also includes a trails development study, looking at opportunities to expand mountain biking and other recreation opportunities in non-Wilderness landscapes.
  3. Restoration: Fish and wildlife habitat and support for a sustainable timber economy in Seeley Lake has so far been accomplished through the Southwest Crown Collaborative (SWCC) with the help of Senator Jon Tester. 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.

Only an act of Congress can fully implement the goals of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Tester, the project has, since 2009, been an integral part of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. FJRA passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2013, but did not receive a vote on the Senate floor. We continue to support the efforts of Sen. Tester, and we ask Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke to also back this trend-setting and widely supported proposal.

We’ve accomplished a great deal already, but now it’s time to get the rest of our proposal across the finish line. Your voice will make the difference! You can help by writing a letter to the editor to your local paper and by contacting Montana’s Congressional delegation directly to express your support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.

You can email letters to the editor (300 words or fewer) to regional newspapers by using the following addresses or forms:

You can reach Montana’s Congressional delegation by calling:

  • Sen. Steve Daines: (202) 224-2651
  • Sen. Jon Tester: (202) 224-2644
  • Rep. Ryan Zinke: (202) 225-3211

Thanks for raising your voice for the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys. For more information, contact me at zporter@wildmontana.org or at (406) 823-0695.

- Zack Porter, MWA western Montana field director