It’s Time to Reward Collaboration

Honest, thoughtful, hardworking Montanans have developed a solution to public land issues in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys

By Smoke Elser

The best place for a man is the back of a horse.

I’ve devoted my life to sharing our beloved Bob Marshall Wilderness with folks from all over the world. For over 50 years I’ve made my living introducing this beautiful natural treasure with others. During my “retirement” I’ve been teaching folks the valuable skills of how to survive and thrive in the wilderness, including our military servicemen and women who use those skills to help defend our country’s interests abroad.

For the better part of a decade I’ve had the pleasure of working side by side with honest, thoughtful, hardworking Montanans to develop a landscape-scale solution to public land issues in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys. Our result is the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.

The BCSP is a balanced proposal. We’ve spent countless hours around the kitchen tables of our neighbors to reach an agreement that works for all of us.  Recently we’ve brought in new supporters including mountain bikers. To get there we’ve all had to compromise to reach an agreement the benefits the greater good.

Last year, Sen. Jon Tester recognized the value of our 12-year collaboration by introducing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) – which recognizes all of our collaborative, grassroots, Montana-made efforts. Now the BCSA is before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. Our government is for the people and by the people, not for a select few. Hardworking locals, folks who make their living off the land, crafted the BCSA. It is supported by 74 percent of Montanans. Even more Republicans support it than Democrats – so where is the support of Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte? So far they have not listened to the people. Now is the time for them to listen and to do what we have sent them to Washington, D.C. to do: pass common-sense legislation that makes us all better off.

In a recent meeting, Daines made clear to our BCSP Steering Committee that he would not support the BCSA unless his recently introduced wilderness study area elimination bill, S.2206, advances along with it. S.2206 has absolutely nothing to do with the BCSA. The BCSA passage should not be tied to – or made more controversial by – any unrelated legislation.

There are countless other collaboratives in Montana who are working hard to realize their own collaborative visions in their own Montana backyards. What message does it send to them if efforts like the BCSA can’t be passed or become part of the all-too-familiar Washington, D.C. political football?

The BCSA stands on its own merits. It’s time to reward collaboration. It’s time to do the right thing for Montana. We want our delegation to unite behind the BCSA the way loggers, conservationists, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, businesses and more have united behind the BCSA. It’s time for Daines and Gianforte to support the BCSA and work with Tester to pass it into law.

In Montana, we’ve always put partisan politics aside and worked for the greater good. That is what the BCSA represents for our forests and our communities. It’s time to get it done.

Smoke Elser is a longtime Montana outfitter and currently resides in Missoula.

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