Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Legislation crafted by a broad coalition of Montanans and sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester will get another hearing in a Senate committee this week, and Missoula County has stepped in with official support of the bill.

On Tuesday, commissioners sent a letter to Sen. Steve Daines asking him to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act as a member of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the bill will be heard on Thursday.

“As our community continues to adapt to the challenges and changes we've realized throughout the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear there is no time like the present to move forward with efforts that preserve and enhance the fabric of our communities,” the county wrote to Daines. “The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is exactly one of those efforts. We urge you to support this legislation and move it forward.”

Tester reintroduced the bill more than a year ago, after initially sponsoring it in the previous Congress. The act would add about 78,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and create two recreation management areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking.

The bill marks a collaborative effort started in 2005 that brought together recreationalists, timber companies and wilderness advocates. Their work has already produced timber and restoration projects, while wilderness designation has had to wait for Congress.

Others have pushed for the bill's passage, including former Gov. Steve Bullock, but with little luck.

“This is a home-grown effort in Montana that's been a collaborative vision that has grown over the years and has gained support over the last decade,” said Kali Becher, a landscape scientist with Missoula County. “It would provide immense benefits to our economy, natural resource conservation and recreationists throughout the area."

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act did receive a brief hearing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in September 2020. But it was just one of 15 bills being considered at that time and got little attention from committee members.

This time, Missoula County is hoping Daines will give the bill the time they say it deserves and help move it out of committee for a full Senate hearing.

“Montana's outdoor recreation economy continues to play a significant role in the state,” the county wrote, citing a study that found that nonresident visitors spent more than $7.5 billion in the state in 2021. “The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act adds world-class opportunities to support and grow our important outdoor recreation economy, better support local businesses and help our communities grow and thrive.”

“This is way past due,” said Commissioner Juanita Vero.