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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Tester Rallies For Blackfoot Clearwater Lands Bill

Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project map, Feb. 2018.
Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project map, Feb. 2018.

CORRECTION: The orginal draft of this story said this bill would remove wilderness study designation to some public lands. The bill does not address wilderness study areas. 

For the third time in three years, Sen. Jon Tester held a rally for a bill he’s sponsoring to expand federally designated wilderness in northwest Montana, and allow some snowmobile and mountain bike use on public lands in the area.

About two hundred people packed the Kettlehouse Brewing taproom in Bonner over the noon hour to hear Tester speak at an event hosted by the Montana Wilderness Association. They’re all hoping this is the year the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act passes.

"Now, we came close last year," Tester said. "Unfortunately close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, but the truth is we did get it through the [Senate] Energy and Natural Resource Committee. We do need to get it out of that committee so that we can have some success either passing this either as a stand-alone piece of legislation or attaching it to another piece of legislation."

The other members of Montana’s Congressional delegation did not get behind Tester’s bill last year. Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte introduced bills to remove Wilderness Study Area designations on more than half a million acres of public lands in Montana last year. Those bills also did not pass.

Tester’s Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is the product of more than a decade’s worth of collaboration between groups representing wilderness, motorized recreation and timbering interests, including Loren Rose, CEO of Pyramid Mountain Lumber in Seeley Lake.

"Our conservation and wildlife partners, and recreation partners got very little out of the work that’s been done to date, yet they’ve supported it wholeheartedly," she said. "Now it’s Pyramid’s turn to stand by its word and stand by this legislation wholeheartedly."

Tester’s legislation has critics on the left. The Flathead-Lolo-Bitterroot Citizen Task Force says collaboratives like the one used to draft the bill limit public involvement and shift control to local groups with inadequate environmental review.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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