1

Opinion: Sen. Daines urged to support Blackfoot-Clearwater on its own merits

There is one overarching reason we choose to operate our businesses in Montana: the state’s outdoors. That choice isn’t so much a business decision as an act of love – for our mountains, valleys, rivers, fish, wildlife, and everything else available on our public lands.

These are the essentials that sustain the quality of life our families, employees, and our fellow Montanans enjoy. These essentials also sustain our businesses.

That’s why it is so troubling to see a lack of support from Sen. Steve Daines for a bill that would protect one of the most beloved and celebrated areas in the state – the Blackfoot, renowned worldwide largely thanks to Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It.” That bill is the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA).

According to the 2020 bipartisan University of Montana Public Lands Survey, 75% of Montanans support the BCSA. It’s difficult to think of any initiative in the state with this kind of appeal across the political spectrum.

In spite of his constituents’ overwhelming support for the bill, Senator Daines made clear in a recent Senate hearing that he would back the bill only if up to 300,000 acres of revered wildlands across the state, managed as wilderness study areas, were stripped of protection. He then announced he’d be introducing a bill that would do just that, demanding Montanans support it in return for his support of the BCSA and the 80,000 acres it would designate as wilderness.

The BCSA sets the standard for cooperation among fellow Montanans. It also stands in stark contrast to a bill that Senator Daines introduced in 2017 that would have lifted protections for wilderness study areas without gathering any public input or vetting from Montanans closest to the areas in question. The bill he’s threatening to introduce in coming days appears to be much the same as the 2017 bill.

The same University of Montana poll that showed 75% support for the BCSA also showed that a mere 8% supported what was in Senator Daines’ 2017 bill and what he’s saying will be in his coming bill. These numbers beg the question: Why would we want to trade a bill with 75% support from Montanans of all political persuasions for one garnering just 8% support?

Given the overwhelming popularity of the BCSA bill, the access it secures for recreation, and the precious waters and wildlands this bill protects, we are urging Senator Daines to support the BCSA on its own merits and not bog it down with an unrelated and divisive demand.

Another compelling reason he should support the BCSA relates to the heroic amount of time, energy and passion that dozens of Montanans have invested in the BCSA.

The BCSA is the culmination of a 15-year collaborative effort by the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a group in Seeley Lake, Ovando, and other nearby communities who represent a broad spectrum of interests, including timber, ranching, outfitting, local business, conservation, recreation and more.

In 2010, before its bill was introduced, the BCSP helped to establish the Southwestern Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCC). To date, the SWCC has created or maintained an average of 153 timber and forest restoration jobs and has brought $35 million in federal investments to the local community, resulting in an overall investment of $92 million.

The success of the SWCC is why Pyramid Lumber and 170 other businesses and organizations, including our own, back the BCSA and the new wilderness it would designate. Strong business support for the BCSA is yet another compelling reason for Senator Daines to focus on the merits of the bill and lift his demands.

Moreover, the BCSA represents something special about our state that is becoming increasingly rare – the ability for neighbors to put political, ideological, and philosophical differences aside and come up with a proposal that works for everyone around the table, and for an overwhelming majority of Montanans.

Senator Daines, let’s put lopsided politics aside and do what’s right for our state and for the people of our state. Let’s pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

Amy Beck is the CEO of Oboz, Robert Keith owns and operates the Beartooth Group and Philosopher’s Beef. Both live and work in Bozeman and are members of Business for Montana’s Outdoors