The Time for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act Is Now

The pandemic has been a wake-up call that Montanans and other Americans absolutely depend on public lands

By Marne Hayes, Amy Beck, Todd Frank, Tony Reinhardt and Connie Long

On Aug. 12, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project released an economic report showing how public lands and water sustain the economy of the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys and nearby communities. The report also highlights how the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) will protect the public lands and water on which that economy depends.

Before COVID-19, Montana’s public lands and waters fueled a $7 billion outdoor recreation economy that supported over 70,000 jobs in Montana and contributed $287 million in consumer spending. We are hopeful that the economy will recover, but we cannot leave the health of our public lands and waters – and by extension, our economy – to fate. To sustain our outdoor recreation economy and the jobs that depend on it, we need the insurance, and assurance, the BCSA provides.

Reintroduced by Sen. Tester, D-Mont., last year, the BCSA is the culmination of a decade-long collaborative effort of Montanans who represent a wide spectrum of interests – conservation, timber, ranching, outfitting, local business, and conservation. The bill would add almost 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain wilderness areas, permanently protecting four tributaries that are crucial to the health of the Blackfoot River and its trout and wildlife populations. The BCSA also includes increased snowmobiling access in the Otatsy area, mountain bike access to Spread Mountain, and a recreational trails study to potentially add more ATV trails.

The new economic report shows that the Blackfoot River fishery generated well over 9,000 guided outfitter days in 2018. It also shows that anglers spent almost $1 billion in Montana in 2017, while hunters spent almost $400 million, sustaining fly shops, outfitters, guides, outdoor gear and sporting good stores, outdoor manufacturers, and other business like ours throughout the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys, in Missoula, and beyond.

Businesses like ours depend on the Blackfoot River remaining cold, connected, and clean – conditions trout need to thrive, and that in turn bring anglers from around the world to fish this legendary river. By permanently protecting the Blackfoot’s key tributaries, the BCSA will help ensure that not only trout, grizzly bears, elk, and other wildlife in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys thrive, but that our businesses do so as well.

It’s no wonder then the bipartisan 2020 University of Montana Public Lands Survey revealed that 75% of Montanans support the BCSA, as do over 160 groups, organizations, and businesses. But the bill has not yet received a hearing or markup in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (SENR).

On Aug. 11, Tester sent a letter to SENR Chairman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ranking Member Joe Manchin, D-WV, requesting a hearing for the BCSA. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., sits on this committee, making him well-positioned to advance the BCSA.

As we saw with the recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, great things happen for Montana when our delegation works together on behalf of our public lands. We are asking Daines to join Tester in support of the BCSA. With his help, this bill could get a hearing and markup in committee and move on for a Senate floor vote. With three out of four Montanans in support of the BCSA, the time is now for Daines to join Tester as a champion for the BCSA, the importance of which has only been augmented by COVID-19.

The pandemic has been a wake-up call that Montanans and other Americans absolutely depend on public lands – for our physical and mental wellbeing and our economy. People from in and out of state have flocked to Montana’s public lands this summer, especially to the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys, underscoring just how vital it is we protect our public lands and waters by passing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

Marne Hayes is executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors. Amy Beck is president of Oboz Footwear. Todd Frank is owner of The Trail Head in Missoula. Tony Reinhardt is a fishing guide and owner of Montana Trout Outfitters in Missoula. Connie Long is co-owner of Bob Marshall Wilderness Outfitters.

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