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Jon Tester Blackfoot Clearwater

Sen. Jon Tester announces the reintroduction of his Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act on Friday in Bonner. The bill would protect wilderness and recreation features around the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex as part of a collaborative process that produced 140 jobs thinning fuels, logging and restoration work.

BONNER — Citing a decade of groundwork, Sen. Jon Tester has reintroduced his Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in another attempt to protect wilderness and recreation features around the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

More than 100 supporters filled the KettleHouse Brewery taproom here on Friday to cheer the announcement. Among the first to speak was Pyramid Mountain Lumber Chief Operating Officer Loren Rose, who recalled how timber workers teamed up with wilderness advocates to create an award-winning forestry project based on Tester’s unsuccessful Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. He compared that to a three-legged stool, supported by logging work, recreation opportunities and wilderness protection.

“Everyone who collaborates expects to get something out of it, something they couldn’t get otherwise,” Rose said. “Logs on trucks. Acres for wilderness. So far, our collaborative partners have got very little, but they supported us wholeheartedly. The final piece is the wilderness additions. This stool is not going to stand on one leg forever.”

Tester’s bill would add 80,000 acres of federal wilderness on the mountain faces of the Clearwater and Blackfoot river valleys. It would also create designated mountain bike and snowmobile recreation areas north of Ovando totaling about 5,800 acres.

The earlier Forest Jobs and Recreation Act legislation linked those land protections to support for logging work. That commercial plank got rolled into a different U.S. Forest Service initiative called the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Rose said the resulting Southwest Crown Collaborative project produced 140 jobs thinning hazardous fuels, logging, upgrading 240 miles of forest road, decommissioning another 90 miles and improving 38 stream crossings to protect bull and cutthroat trout populations.

Outfitter Mack Long observed that the world’s population was about 3 billion people when the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, and nearly 8 billion today.

“We have a finite resource,” Long said of the nation’s remaining wild country. “Setting aside a small piece of it to become part of the larger Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is a great stroke.”

Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act bill proposed combinations of wilderness and recreation protections linked to expanded logging and forest treatment work in three regions of Montana. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act essentially lifts the portion focused on the Bob Marshall region, minus the jobs links that have already been accomplished. Tester introduced the new version of the bill in 2017, but it only got as far as a committee hearing.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” Tester said of the bill’s prospects. “It may be in this Congress, may be before the end of the year.”

To do that, however, Tester must get the bill first through the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and including Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.