Daines would add wilderness elimination to Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater bill

Senator Jon Tester joins supporters near Missoula to push for passage of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act in this 2018 file photo. (Current file Martin Kidston / Missoula)

Senator Jon Tester is pushing again to pass his Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, but he receives little support from the other senator from Montana, Senator Steve Daines.

On Tuesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Public Lands, Forestry and Mines subcommittee held a brief hearing on 14 bills, including Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

The law was first introduced as a stand-alone bill in 2017, and this will be the third Congress in which the bill will be introduced. The act would add approximately 78,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex and create two recreation management zones for snowmobiling and mountain biking.

This is the latest piece in a collaborative effort that began in 2005 that brought together recreation enthusiasts, forestry companies and wilderness advocates. They worked out a compromise that has already resulted in timber and restoration projects north of Lake Seeley north of Ovando.

Until 2020, the associated Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative created or maintained an average of 153 jobs, provided $ 34 million in federal investments and added an overall investment of $ 57 million in the local economy. The collaboration cut over 60 million board feet, treated 57,000 acres for noxious weeds, restored 204 miles of streams, and maintained over 3.40 miles of trails.

But the final piece of collaboration, the agreed wilderness designation, had to wait for Congress to act.

“Those who have worked on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project for the past two decades, including myself, have poured our hearts into this bill because our hearts belong to the wild lands, wildlife and waters that this bill protects. The Blackfoot are under enormous pressure, due to increasing land and water use, more frequent droughts and hot weather. We need to pass this bill as soon as possible to ensure that our home in Montana remains the beloved place it is, ”Jack Rich, owner of Rich’s Montana Guest Ranch, said in a statement.

Larch in fall splendor in the Sapphires Wilderness Study Area. (Montana Wilderness Association / Zack Porter)

Loren Rose, formerly of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, led the process and said the project is something everyone in the region can agree on.

“It’s time to do it” Rose said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Christopher French, deputy head of the national forest system, said the Biden administration supports the collaboration that has been built into Tester’s bill, and that his team is working with Tester on a few small modifications to ensure the forest service can do this.

But it was the wilderness designation that prompted Daines to insist that Tester’s bill should not go ahead unless it is combined with legislation that Daines said. he would present soon.

Daines said his bill would free certain Montana wilderness study areas from wilderness management to management as a national forest.

“I support wilderness designations when they are fully supported by the local community, stakeholders and the best available science. I think we can do better to come up with a more balanced product that the Montanais can support, ”said Daines. “I think there should be a balance between preserving areas deemed to be nature-friendly while allowing the people of Montana to appropriately use lands deemed unsuitable for nature.”

Daines read part of a letter from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act should include the publication of certain wilderness study areas. Citizens for Balanced Use, a motorized use group, also opposes the designation of wilderness, to say it damages access to public land, prevents logging and limits multi-use recreation, even calling the bill “a land grab for mountain bikes”.

After Tester introduced his bill at the last Congress, Daines also acknowledged the collaborative effort but did not support the bill, raising questions about how the designation of nature might increase the risk. forest fire.

On Tuesday, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said he was unsure whether or not Daines supported the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. Daines said it was a good example of collaboration, but he wanted to see it as part of his bill to eliminate certain study areas from the wilderness.

Daines has already introduced similar legislation. In 2018, he introduced a bill to eliminate five wilderness study areas, including the Blue Joint and Sapphire areas south of Missoula. He was joined by former Rep. Greg Gianforte, who introduced a second bill to eliminate 24 other study areas.

A subsequent survey by the University of Montana indicated that more than 80% of Montanais opposed the legislation, in part because it circumvented the public process.

Hearing from Daines’ testimony on Tuesday, Tester pointed to the amount of work that residents of the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys put into the agreements that produced the bill.

“The BCSA is the result of decades of collaborative work by people on the ground, is supported by more than 70% of Montanais, and I would appreciate the support of Senator Daines. The BCSA is based on its own merits, and any changes or additions should be broadly supported and include a similar collaborative process involving the members of the BCSA Collaboration who brought us here, ”Tester said.

The tester’s comment refers to a UM 2020 survey of the 500 voters who support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act has hovered around 74% over the past three years. The same survey indicates that 8% of Montanais support the removal of protections from wilderness study areas.

Montana sports groups, including the Montana Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, have expressed disapproval, saying the bill would benefit Montana’s fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation economy.

“It is unfortunate that the way Senator Daines picks up the ball and goes home prevents a bill supported by 80% of hunters and anglers from moving forward,” said Scott Mylnechuk, Montana Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Board Member. .

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at [email protected]

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