According to political opportunists and anti-public land advocates, good land management is a thing of the past – and collaboration has vanished, too. Yet successes exist if you look past the political rhetoric and boondoggle proposals advanced by those whose real effort is to take the “public” out of public lands. One of those successes is the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project.
The Blackfoot-Clearwater region is the backyard of western Montana. The public lands surrounding Ovando and Seeley Lake are where countless Montanans go to hunt elk, deer and black bear or fish for native trout. Families have been spending time on these timbered ridges and creek bottoms for generations. Thousands of Montana kids have learned to hunt big game in the wild country of Lolo National Forest and to fish for trout in the waterways of the North Fork of the Blackfoot, Monture Creek and the Clearwater River.
The Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers also provide irrigation water for ranchers and farmers and sustain native cutthroat and bull trout fisheries. The rivers’ headwaters are located high in the mountains and present some of the best fishing in Montana for anglers hearty enough to reach them. Just last month, thousands of Montanans and tourists flocked to Seeley Lake and Ovando to hit the salmon fly hatch, one of Montana’s first chances to sling big bugs at willing trout. Irrigators have collaborated for years with groups like Trout Unlimited to improve fish habitat and water conditions so that traditional family agriculture and native fish both have plenty of room to exist and thrive.
Collaboration is another tradition in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys. For more than 10 years, the people who live, work and play here have been working together to end conflict with large carnivores, increase access to public lands and ensure a bright future for the inhabitants of these spectacular valleys – people and wildlife alike.
To this end, the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project is a landscape-driven, locally grown, widely supported tool for sound public lands management. It includes provisions that would permanently conserve important big-game habitat, ensuring that this section of Montana’s backyard remains a destination for locals to fill their freezers each fall. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers supports the BCSP for all these reasons. Yet our support is grounded in the fact that the BCSP is the product of diverse interests, including timber, conservation, outfitters, local business, snowmobilers and ranchers, all of whom put aside their differences and forged something that benefits everyone.
A new University of Montana poll shows that 74 percent of Montanans support the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project. By joining recreational and timber interests with conservation interests – and designating 84,000 acres of public lands as wilderness – the BCSP is a proposal that all Montanans can celebrate. It’s time for our Montana delegation to finish the good work that was started on the ground in Seeley Lake and Ovando and introduce a BCSP bill in Washington, D.C.
Montanans are tired of gridlock and petty squabbles derailing locally crafted proposals that respect the multiple uses of our shared public lands. The time is now to introduce the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project and work together toward its passage in 2016. Our fish, wildlife and outdoor heritage all depend on prompt and decisive action.
Ryan Busse, board chair
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
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