Tester Announces Legislation to Expand Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex

Legislation would add 79,000 acres to Bob Marshall, expand mountain biking, snowmobiling access

By Tristan Scott

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Wednesday announced legislation that would add 79,000 acres of public land to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex while expanding access to snowmobilers and mountain bikers and boosting forest restoration projects with timber harvest.

The Democratic senator introduced the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in Seeley Lake at Rich’s Montana Guest Ranch, adjacent to the 1.5 million-acre wilderness area, surrounded by outfitters and wilderness advocates.

The act would expand the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area to include Grizzly Basin and the Swan Front, the Scapegoat Wilderness Area to include the North Fork of the Blackfoot and Monture Creek, and the Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas to include the West Fork of the Clearwater.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a coalition of loggers, ranchers, outfitters, recreationists and others that formed a decade ago to find collaborative solutions for public land uses in the Seeley Lake and Ovando area, crafted the proposal that became Tester’s legislation.

Numerous land users are hailing the bill as a win-win for conservation and recreation.

“The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is the perfect example of what happens when Montanans work together,” said Tester, who will formally introduce the bill on the Senate floor on Feb. 27. “This legislation will create jobs, strengthen the local economy, and preserve our outdoor way of life for future generations.”

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act would protect 79,000 acres, develop a comprehensive trail plan to provide recreationists with access to the Lolo National Forest, open 2,200 acres of land to snowmobiling, and protect access to 3,800 acres of mountain biking.

“Jon Tester knows how to bring communities together,” said Jim Stone, a rancher from Ovando. “I hope this collaboration is just the beginning to making this country better.”

The act would also help increase the pace and scale of forest restoration in the Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest and boost local collaborative forest restoration projects, aspects that have gained favor among the local timber industry. The bill would direct the Forest Service to assess the ecological condition of the forests and watersheds within the district and identify “restoration actions needed to facilitate ecosystem sustainability, resilience, and health,” the bill states.

Loren Rose, chief operating officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, said the bill was the result of years of collaboration and that the local company is supporting the proposal.

“Pyramid Mountain Lumber has been a citizen of the upper Blackfoot since the 40’s,” Rose said. “While collaboration was in the dictionary back then, it was not in our vernacular, yet it is what all of us in the upper Blackfoot have always done. Senator Tester has put forth the legislation to affirm all those discussions of collaboration.”

»»» Click here to view a map of the proposed expansion.

The act would open the 2,000-acre Otatsy Recreational Area to snowmobilers and create the Spread Mountain Recreational Area, a prized mountain biking destination that includes Spread Mountain, Center Ridge and Camp Pass trails. It would also direct the U.S. Forest Service to study new recreational opportunities in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys.

Connie Long, owner of Bob Marshall Outfitters, said the Blackfoot River corridor is the life blood of her business and the local economy.

“Wilderness is incredibly important to the communities that surround it, for the jobs it creates and the businesses and economy it sustains,” Long said. “I have a real privilege of taking folks from all around the world into this place we call the wilderness. The North Fork of the Blackfoot is pretty special to me. It was my first trailhead and it was my first exposure into the wilderness, just like it is with my grandsons who are 8 and 10.”

Wilderness advocates said furnishing permanent protections on the Blackfoot would only add value to the local economy.

“Folks come to Montana to experience the magic of Montana, and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project helps ensure the magic of Montana will remain strong forever,” said Lee Boman, President of the Montana Wilderness Association. “The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project will produce immediate benefits, but will become more valuable in the decades that pass.”