Montana Public Radio

Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

A bill heard in a U.S. Senate committee on Sept. 16 proposes nearly 90 thousand acres of new wilderness and recreation areas in northwest Montana.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act stems from nearly a decade of collaboration between people representing wilderness, recreation and timber interests near Seeley Lake.

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.

A U.S. Senate committee heard bills from both of Montana’s senators today. One would add wilderness protection to about 79,000 acres of land here, the other would remove Wilderness Study Area designation for around half a million acres.

A bird's eye view of the southern reaches of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Josh Burnham / Montana Public Radio

Two Montana wilderness bills are getting hearings Wednesday in an important U.S. Senate committee. There’s disagreement over whether they should be linked.

Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and is sponsoring one of the bills it will hear Wednesday. It would remove wilderness study area designations in five Montana places encompassing nearly half-a-million acres.

U.S. Senate Committee On Energy and Natural Resources

A bill that would protect 79,000 acres of wilderness in the Blackfoot and Clearwater watersheds has been scheduled for a Senate committee hearing in two weeks.

A bird's eye view of the southern reaches of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Josh Burnham / Montana Public Radio

At a ranch near Seeley Lake Wednesday, U.S. Senator Jon Tester announced he is introducing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. The bill would protect nearly 80,000 acres of wilderness and develop a comprehensive trail plan to provide recreationists with access to the Lolo National Forest. This would include opening some areas to snowmobiling and protecting access for mountain biking.

Looking out on the Swan Range and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Josh Burnham

Summer is prime time for visiting Montana’s biggest wilderness area, the Bob Marshall Complex - more than 2,300-square miles of roadless, wild, rugged country stretching between Glacier Park and Lincoln, and straddling the Continental Divide between Seeley Lake and Augusta. It’s so big, it’s hard to take in from the ground.

Absaroka Range
Courtesy Rick and Susie Graetz

After languishing for over two decades in the U.S. House, a sweeping wilderness bill now gets its first shot in the Senate.

New Campaign Touts Benefits Of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Courtesy Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

A coalition of Seeley Lake and Ovando-area residents say they’ve developed a plan to both protect and use local public lands. The group’s rebooted its public relations campaign to attract some congressional attention.

New Campaign Touts Benefits Of Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Courtesy Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project

Ten years ago people in the Seeley Lake area who were tired of constant fighting over logging and other uses of public lands in Montana got together to try to come up with a new, better way of resolving conflicts. They came up with something called the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, designed to improve the health of local forests, and at the same time keep local timber jobs. The agreement also got consensus on protecting additional land as Wilderness. Wednesday evening, members of the Project are getting together in Missoula to celebrate their accomplishments over the decade. We talked about it with Zack Porter, a field director for the Montana Wilderness Association.