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Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project map

This map from the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project shows proposed additions to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Mission Mountain Wilderness area, as well as a proposed snowmobile recreation area.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project was bundled together with two other collaborative initiatives from western Montana and introduced into the U.S. Senate as the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act for the first time in 2009.

Although it was cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2013, the proposal has never received a full Senate vote and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has yet to reintroduce it this session.

Thankfully, Tester has been unwavering and unequivocal in his support for these homegrown forest management solutions. His stance falls in line with the results of a recent poll from the University of Montana that shows three in four Montanans embrace public lands as the treasure they are, and approve of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project specifically.

The poll results are bipartisan, with 73 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Independents in favor of the project. Yet among Montana’s congressional delegates, support remains split along partisan lines.

The BCSP steering committee is pushing hard to bridge the divide and secure congressional approval at last, for their portion of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act at least. They continue to gather endorsements from a growing array of supporters and have pledged to release a new video every month urging Montana’s entire congressional delegation to take the project to Washington, D.C.

The urgency comes partially due to timing – the BCSP is 10 years old this year, which happens to be the centennial of the National Park Service – and partially due to the fact that completed portions of the proposal have had a measurable effect, and project supporters are eager to capitalize on that momentum to implement the remaining portions.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project is the result of years of discussion involving conservationists, timber interests, small-business owners, recreation groups, government agencies and many other stakeholders. The idea was to use a groundbreaking collaborative process to move past the entrenched opposition that had long thwarted meaningful progress on public lands while making enemies of members of the same communities.

In 2006, the project’s participants unveiled a proposal for the Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest that offered new wilderness, habitat restoration, designated recreation areas and logging recommendations, all located around the towns of Seeley Lake and Ovando in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys.

The project counts among its successes the establishment of the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative, which it helped launch in 2010. That collaborative has led to the creation or maintenance of 138 jobs and kicked off $19 million in federal investments, according to BCSP backers, resulting in more than 46,000 acres treated for noxious weeks, 130 miles of stream restoration and 2,000 miles of multiple use trails maintained.

Now, advocates of the project would like to see their vision completed. That vision includes the additional of 83,000 acres to the 83,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas and the establishment of the 1,800-acre Otatsy Recreation Area for snowmobilers. This is congressmembers’ part to do.

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Given the fact that Congress has failed to make any headway with the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, proponents of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project are wondering if their proposal might meet with more success as a stand-alone piece of legislation. In any case, they are drumming up a crowd of endorsers to lean on Montana’s senators and congressman.

The recent poll, commissioned by UM’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative, follows on the heels of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission’s official endorsement, which itself comes in addition to a long list of supporters throughout the state, from Missoula County commissioners to Pyramid Mountain Lumber to Montana Outfitters and Guides Association to the Montana Wilderness Association.

Despite this strong support, however, the project contained in Democrat Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act continues to get the brush-off from Montana’s Republican members of Congress. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke both insist that more public input is necessary before they’ll get behind the BCSP. Meanwhile, they have plenty of other land management issues to occupy their attention.

That’s no longer good enough. Daines and Zinke have been in Congress long enough – and the project has certainly been available to the public long enough – for them to have fully explored the idea and formed an opinion on it. If any lingering doubts remained about whether Montanans truly support the project, the UM poll results ought to put them to rest.

It’s time for Daines and Zinke to sit down with Tester and decide what to do about the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. If they aren’t ready to support the entire FJRA, they ought to at least support the piece approved by 75 percent of Montanans, the majority of those whose wishes they are sworn to represent in Congress, and who overwhelmingly support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.

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Missoulian editorial board: Publisher Mark Heintzelman, Editor Kathy Best and Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen.

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