Guest Column

Zinke Should Introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

With the threat of losing Pyramid Lumber, creating the two new recreation areas is now more important today than originally expected

By Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project Steering Committee

Dear Representative Zinke,

About two decades ago an unexpected group that included snowmobilers, wilderness advocates, ranchers, timber people, packers, business folks, and a biologist or two, came together because they wanted to assist the Seeley Lake Ranger District with recreation and conservation efforts.   This collaboration would later be known as the

Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. They borrowed a principle from the Blackfoot Challenge called the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule requires everyone to focus on the 80% of things they agreed upon and mostly ignore the 20% of things they couldn’t agree upon. That simple but powerful rule helped generate creative “win-win” solutions to challenging issues over the past 20 years. 

Over time the aim of this group has evolved from assisting the Seeley Lake Ranger District with recreation and conservation efforts to generating and advocating for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. The 80/20 rule still propels the BCSP Steering Committee and active supporters of the BCSA all along. In fact, recent polling by the University of Montana now shows that bipartisan support for the BCSA is higher than ever, at 85%. 

Two of the most significant compromises reached through the 80/20 rule involved recreation.  Early in the history of the BCSA snowmobilers requested access to the Elsina bowls. After many conversations, the U.S. Forest Service  modified the forest plan to allow winter mechanized activity in the Elsina Bowls. The result of that compromise was an expectation that the West Fork of the Clearwater, with its remarkable wildlife habitat, would eventually be protected with a Wilderness designation. That designation is in today’s BCSA bill. 

Another significant compromise took three years to find. The sweet spot of that compromise was to change the Lolo Forest Service designation of “recommended wilderness” to recreation areas for mountain bikes and snowmobiles. After three years of conversation and following the 80/20 rule, an agreement was reached that would create two new recreation areas, one tailored for mountain biking and one tailored for snowmobiling.

Both the West Fork of the Clearwater agreement and the agreement to create two new recreation areas won’t be realized until the BCSA becomes law. Recreation has long been an economic powerhouse for the Seeley Lake area, but with the threat of losing Pyramid Lumber, creating the two new recreation areas is now more important today than originally expected. Those new recreation areas will be new economic drivers for the Seeley Lake area. 

The BCSA will only designate 78,000 acres of new Wilderness which is small compared with The Bob’s 1.5 million acres, but the connections that the BCSA provides are priceless. The lands of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act connect with the Mission Mountain Wilderness which connects with the Tribal Wilderness to the west. The lands of the BCSA connect with The Bob which connects to Glacier National Park to the east and north. Those connections become wildlife corridors. The BCSA will help elk, deer, mountain goats, and other rare species survive while keeping Montana’s hunting heritage vibrant.  

Now, after 20 some years of finding compromise, we respectfully ask Congressman Ryan Zinke to introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project Steering Committee consists of:

Smoke Elser, retired outfitter and Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame member
Jack and Belinda Rich, Rich’s Montana Guest Ranch
Becky Edwards, Mountain Mamas
Jim Stone, Rolling Stone Ranch
Connie and Mack Long, Montana Heritage Outfitters
Gordy Sanders, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc.
Tim Love, retired Seeley District ranger
Addrien Marx, Seeley Lake retired businesswoman and community leader
Lee Boman, former Seeley Lake Community Foundation and Seeley Lake ROCKS
Jon Haufler, Clearwater Resource Council
Zach Angstead, Wild Montana
Shannon and Karl ZurMuehlen, Kraz’s Snowmobile and Powersports Rentals
Bill Hodge, The Wilderness Society
Garrett Titus, Montana Wildlife Federation
Bill Wall, Sustainability, Inc.