At Rich’s Montana Guest Ranch near Seeley Lake, a crowd of about 125 greeted Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-Mont.) recent announcement of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act with excitement, relief and pride. Many of those present at the Feb. 22 gathering had worked for more than a decade on the plans underpinning the legislation, forging a complicated set of compromises across a wide range of interest groups. The audience represented a “great cross section of the community,” says Montana Wilderness Association Conservation Director John Todd: outfitters in cowboy hats, sportsmen in camouflage, and wilderness enthusiasts in puffy jackets.
Tester’s bill would expand Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, which consists of 1.5 million acres encompassing three wilderness areas, by 79,000 acres while also accommodating recreational and economic uses such as sustainable logging on adjacent lands. It designates two recreation management areas: a 2,200-acre winter area open to to snowmobiling, and a 3,800-acre summer area open to mountain biking. The lands in question fall within Lolo National Forest.
Timber, recreation and conservation groups first came together to address land management in the Blackfoot Clearwater Valley in 2005. Four years later, Tester folded plans for the valley into his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which led to progress on the project’s forest restoration goals. To address the recreation and conservation aspects, the project’s steering committee reconvened a few years ago and revised the plan into its current form.