Missoula County commissioners sign on as supporters of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

Sen. Jon Tester first introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in 2017. (Dave Stalling/Missoula Current)

The Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday signed a letter to Sen. Jon Tester expressing their support for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, introduced by Tester in 2017 and reintroduced in 2019. 

“In Missoula County, it is a welcome opportunity when we can show support for a wide-ranging proposal backed by diverse Montanans,” the letter states. “We are proud to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, which aims to address multiple challenges and opportunities in a single place-based collaborative effort.”

The letter was signed by commissioners David Strohmaier, Juanita Vero and Josh Slotnick. 

The stewardship act was developed through more than a decade of local discussions and collaboration among ranchers, outfitters, loggers, environmentalists, businessmen, hunters, anglers, mountain bikers, and conservation, recreation and timber groups in the Seeley Lake area.

The project provides for forest restoration work to support local timber jobs, the development of additional recreational trails, and the designation of additional wilderness on public land adjacent to the existing Mission Mountains, Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas.  It would also open up more than 2,000 acres of land to snowmobiling, and nearly 4,000 acres for mountain biking.

Although the project has received support from a diversity of Montana citizens, some environmental organizations and U.S. Forest Service officials have expressed objections to parts of the act that mandate commercial work in the forests and circumvent environmental analysis and review. They have also voiced concerns about compromises reached with mountain biking groups. 

In a review of the act for the Flathead-Lolo Bitterroot Citizen Task Force, environmental consultant Mike Bader wrote that the proposed creation of two new recreation areas “would bring new human activity to a place heavily used by grizzly bears and wintering elk herds.” 

But according to a 2018 University of Montana Public Lands Survey, the bill enjoys the diverse, bipartisan support of 73 percent of Montanans.

That number now officially includes Missoula County’s leadership.

“The project promotes cooperative public-private stewardship across the southwestern Crown of the Continent and has already accomplished a great deal, including generating $47.4 million in Missoula County investment and sustaining an average yearly labor income of $7.6 million,” the commissioners’ letter to Tester states.  “The act is a balanced and bipartisan proposal that will help sustain forest restoration jobs that improve fish and wildlife habitat and protect communities from wildfire; designate 79,000 acres of new wilderness; protect essential habitat for elk, bull trout, grizzly bears, wolverines and other wildlife; provide areas for high-quality snowmobiling; and secure mountain biking, hiking and horse-packing trails.

“We urge our Montana delegation to support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, an agreement that is 10 years strong and stands on its own. It is important to Missoula County, and it is important for Montana and Montanans.”

Known as Senate Bill 1765, the act was reintroduced into Congress last June and is still awaiting review and consideration by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.