Supporters of the unfinished Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project ramped up their efforts Tuesday, releasing the first of a series of videos asking Montana’s congressional delegation to support the campaign.
The 10-year-old project combined a mix of wilderness designations, timber supply improvements, recreation areas and habitat restoration work on public land between Lincoln and Condon, around the fringes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It was one of three components of Sen. Jon Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which has not made it out of Congress since it was proposed in 2008.
“A lot of the timber provisions and restoration provisions were included in CFLRP (Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program) and Southwest Crown of the Continent legislation,” Loren Rose of Pyramid Mountain Lumber said during a news conference Tuesday. “It would be easy for Pyramid to walk away now, but that isn’t what a partner does to another partner. This is the right thing to do for the landscape.”
Rose was part of a group of timber workers, wilderness advocates, ranchers, businesspeople, snowmobilers and other stakeholders who’ve been pushing for the land-management compromise since 2006. Proposals first raised in early versions of the bill have gone on to create or sustain 138 jobs and $19 million in federal investment. Left undone are designations for the proposed 2,000-acre Otatsy Recreation Area for snowmobile riding near Ovando, and wilderness protection for the North Fork of the Blackfoot River, Monture Creek, the Swan Front, Grizzly Basin and the West Fork of the Clearwater River. Those areas amount to about 83,000 acres added to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas.
“We’ve been at this 10 years, and everybody’s still together,” said Mack Long, retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 supervisor and now backcountry outfitter. “At first everyone was holding their cards real close to the chest, but eventually people gave up a little here and there, and gained a lot in the process for timber, ranching, wilderness and business. But now it feels like our window is starting to close. Things change. Landscapes change. We need something done now, and we’re asking our delegation to step up and grab hold of this.”
Long and wife Connie are featured in the first video put up on the blackfootclearwater.org website. They testify about the value of protecting public lands and the business they maintain as traditional horse-and-mule outfitters.
“We’ve learned from past experience, what worked and doesn’t work,” Connie Long said. “We’re using the website as an avenue to showcase the folks involved in this.”
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The appeal got a mixed response from Democratic Sen. Tester and Republicans, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke. Both Zinke and Daines said they were still collecting public input on the Blackfoot-Clearwater concept, and were focusing current efforts on forest management legislation.
“I will continue to engage with Montanans on this proposal,” Daines said in an email. “However, what I’m hearing from many is first we need to improve the health of all our forests to reduce the severity of fires and create good-paying jobs.”
“I’ve been working with this partnership for years, and Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project is just the kind of collaborative, balanced approach to public land management that we need more of in Montana,” Tester wrote in an email. “I’m thrilled that folks on the ground are continuing to work together on this, and I will look for their help to build support for it so we can increase recreation, conservation and timber harvest on our public lands.”
However, Tester has not resubmitted his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in the current congressional session. The bill passed committee review in the previous session but did not make a full Senate vote.
“We’re not in a position to tell either senator or Rep. Zinke how to take this forward,” Rose said. “If it needs to come out stand-alone legislation, so be it. We’re supporting this effort.”
Outfitter and wilderness advocate Smoke Elser of Missoula said while Tester’s attempt to increase logging and wilderness in the Kootenai, Blackfoot and Beaverhead-Deerlodge areas of Montana was a great effort, a smaller approach might be successful now.
“You can’t eat an elephant by eating the whole thing,” Elser said. “The Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project is a smaller portion of FJRA, and it sets an example of how other communities might do the same thing. I think places like Dillon and Darby might want to get in on something like this, so they can eat the elephant one small bite at a time.”