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Montana wilderness bill reflects compromise and care

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act grew out of successful collaboration in a complicated landscape.

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.

Sen. John Tester announces the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act at Rich's Montana Guest Ranch on Feb. 22.
David Stalling

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.

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Comments about this article

Candace Oathout Subscriber
Mar 14, 2017 12:34 PM
What a great program. It is long overdue for this level of cooperation. We cannot protect Wilderness by simply walling it off. We have more than 50 years of data that show man's influence on the landscape is not always and inevitably bad.

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