Voices: We’re behind the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

Horse packers and mountain bikers spend less time together than we should – it sometimes seems like we’re in the woods in search of different things. But the truth is that we’re all drawn to the backcountry for the same reasons: to enjoy Montana’s wild places, to connect with the natural world, and to restore our spiritual health.

We all value this landscape and deserve a place on it. It’s that understanding that has allowed us to come together as part of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.

Discussions weren’t always easy, but we respect one another and the communities we represent. Mutual respect and a shared love for the landscape carried us to create the solutions that are part of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. We’re both proud of our involvement in this collaborative effort and fully supportive of the community conservation outcomes that are reflected in the legislation that Senator Tester introduced to the U.S. Senate in 2019.

This legislation was crafted in Montana, by Montanans, and like the Great American Outdoors Act, has the opportunity to become law this year. This Wednesday the bill will receive a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act will create the Spread Mountain Recreation area, where mountain bikers will continue to experience this incredible landscape via more than 35 miles of challenging, scenic trail. Just over the Spread Mountain ridge, horseback riders and hikers will continue to access the Camp Pass area and beyond on trails without seeing bikes. With passage of the act, tens of thousands of acres that have been managed as wilderness for over thirty years will finally become wilderness, protecting trails that are important access points to the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

This includes part of the Hobnail Tom or North Fork Blackfoot trail, named for Tom Edwards, who Smoke worked for when he first arrived in Montana in the 1950s. It includes Monture Creek, where Smoke has led thousands of guests, many of whom were about to experience Wilderness for the first time, after passing over Hahn Creek Pass. And it includes remarkable wildlife habitat on the floor of the Seeley-Swan Valley that research has shown is the most productive lynx breeding habitat in the Lower 48 and serves as an important corridor connecting the Mission Mountains and Bob Marshall Wildernesses for grizzly bears and wolverine.

We’re both proud that we put in the work to create this bill. It’s a strong, durable piece of legislation – for horsemen and women, mountain bikers, snowmobilers, hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, local business, the timber industry, outfitters and guides, ranchers, and for generations of Montanans to come.

Senator Tester has championed the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act through two Congressional sessions. Thank you, Senator Tester. It’s now time for Senator Daines to get behind the bill and make sure it passes this Congressional session, and I assure you we’ve both been in touch with him frequently and recently encouraging him to do so.

Smoke Elser has worked for more than five decades as a wilderness outfitter and currently teaches packing skills to U.S. soldiers. Ben Horan is the executive director of MTB Missoula. Both Smoke and Ben are members of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project steering committee.