Finding Common Ground in Uncommon Places

One thing we all agree on is that public land needs our help

By Ben Horan and Jordan Reeves

Earlier this Year, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act received a hearing at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington, D.C. This marked the most recent step in the climb from the BCSA’s modest beginnings as a conversation between a few folks in the conference room at Pyramid Mountain Lumber, to its position today as the best model for crafting durable land-use solutions.

During the hearing, Sen. Jon Tester remarked, “God doesn’t make places like this anymore.” We couldn’t agree more. And for a mountain biker from Missoula and a wilderness advocate from Bozeman, one wouldn’t think we’d have much to agree upon. Certainly not who’s going to win the next Cat/Griz football game.

However the foundation of the BCSA effort has always been inclusion and understanding, of sitting down around a kitchen table and putting what we don’t agree upon aside so that we can focus upon that which we do agree. By following that simple rule, we’ve steadily gained more and more diverse supporters over the years: folks who are focused on the greater good of the land and the communities that rely upon it.

One thing we all agree on is that public land needs our help. As the stewards and champions of the wild places we love, we began this conversation by understanding and respecting the positions of other interests. Since 1984 Montana has protected only 67,000 acres of wilderness, less than one-tenth of one percent of our 94 million; meanwhile, mountain bikers see annual reductions in trail access, even when they have ridden, cleared, and maintained those trails for decades.

We agree that we don’t take our public land for granted, and spent this process working through our differences to craft a durable compromise and protect the places we cherish. We agree that patient, community-driven collaborations like the BCSA expand airtight habitat protections like wilderness while acknowledging that bicycles and recreation have a place in the backcountry.

A good compromise is one where no one can gloat that they won every concession, and this plan isn’t any different. There will always be the naysayers, the outliers on the margins who refuse to compromise, who refuse to meet in the middle. And while some will never be happy with any workable solution, it’s important to keep the facts straight:

• The BCSA mints 80,000 acres of brand new designated wilderness, and places our strongest environmental protections on the bull trout, lynx and grizzly habitat of the headwaters of the Blackfoot River.

• The BCSA does not expand mountain bike access. It protects and recognizes access where it currently exists.

• The Recreation Management Areas in the BCSA do not pave the way for mining and road building; they provide otherwise wilderness-strength protections with inclusive recreation access.

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and throw rocks at others’ hard work. It’s much harder to show up to the meetings, to have the hard conversations, to hang in there for the long haul.

The end result is a win-win for everyone. For cyclists, existing mountain bike access on the Spread Mountain complex is maintained and protected. For snowmobilers, new terrain at Lake Otatsy is gained. For wilderness enthusiasts, nearly 80,000 acres of prime wildlife habitat is designated as wilderness into the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain wilderness areas. For the timber industry, 150 logging jobs are sustained annually. And for the communities of Seeley Lake and Ovando, this investment in our natural assets will show immense returns in Montana’s $7.1 billion recreational economy.

Who loses in this situation? We’re hard pressed to identify anyone.  That is why it is so critical that Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte endorse the BCSA and work with Sen. Tester to pass this legislation in Washington, D.C. This Montana-made proposal deserves the full support of our delegation. The time is now to put partisan politics aside and work together to pass the BCSA.

Ben Horan is executive director of MTB Missoula; Jordan Reeves is conservation specialist with The Wilderness Society in Bozeman.

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