An effort to protect thousands of acres of public land in western Montana may find its second wind if Sen. Jon Tester gets the hearing he’s seeking in the coming months.
On Tuesday, Tester asked the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to consider his Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which he initially announced in February.
The effort has won widespread support across a broad coalition of groups who, nearly unanimously, have praised the bill as a Montana-made, grass-roots proposal.
“Montanans have spent over a decade crafting the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project to improve forest management and protect thousands of acres of public land,” Tester said on Tuesday. “It’s past time we moved forward with this responsible proposal, which has garnered the support of outfitters, timber companies, local government, and outdoorsmen and women from all walks of life.”
In 2009, Tester introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act that allowed for timber harvest, forest restoration work, watershed protections, and wilderness and recreation designations in the Upper Blackfoot-Clearwater Valley.
Since that time, Tester helped secure $19 million in federal funding to implement much of the restoration work, creating and sustaining more than 100 jobs and investing roughly $33 million into the local economy.
However, the recreation and wilderness portion of the legislation never came to fruition despite a broad coalition of support ranging from Pyramid Mountain Lumber to the Montana Wilderness Association.
Earlier this year, Tester promoted the measure as a jobs creator, saying it would both strengthen the local economy while preserving the region’s outdoor heritage.
As written, the act would protect 79,000 acres of land and develop a comprehensive trail plan providing expanded access to the Lolo National Forest. It would also open 2,200 acres to snowmobiling and ensure access to 3,800 acres for mountain biking.