Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project
Several years ago, the Montana Wilderness Association (MWA) and the Seeley Lake Driftriders snowmobile club were poised to enter a head-to-head battle over management distinctions in the Lolo National Forest Plan revision. Instead, they reached a mutually beneficial agreement that paved the way for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.
Upon seeing this unfold, diverse local community members said to themselves, “If they can do it, we can do it.” And they started talking to each other – loggers and sportsmen, millworkers and conservation advocates, hikers and motorized users – about how they could work together to maintain the ecosystem integrity of the valley and the larger Seeley Lake Ranger District while simultaneously stimulating the local economy and ensuring access to recreationists.
Through these conversations, they recognized that much of what they wanted to see in the valley was compatible. Everyone wanted to see our forests managed responsibly. Everyone agreed that there are some areas in the valley that should be kept roadless for wildlife and for backcountry hunting and fishing. And so they pulled out maps to see if they agreed about what should be done where in the valley. After looking at the maps, they realized that the Lolo Forest Plan for the Seeley Lake Ranger District encompassed what they all wanted to see in the valley. The Monture Creek and North Fork Blackfoot drainages were already “recommended wilderness.” So was Grizzly Basin and the Swan Front, as well as the West Fork Clearwater drainage. The areas of the forest that everyone agreed were appropriate for active management were already slated for different intensities of active management. But while the agreement was there, the resources to accomplish management objectives on the ground weren’t there.
Thus was born the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a legislative proposal that would provide the Seeley Lake Ranger District with the resources it needs to carry out stewardship contracts for ten consecutive years, build a biomass facility in Seeley Lake to make use of the excess slash from stewardship activities, and designate 87,000 acres of wilderness.
The broad support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project has received has also been due to the spirit of collaboration that has surrounded it. People are tired of fighting and getting nowhere. The partners in the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project put aside their differences, found a zone of agreement, and are working together to make our valley a better place.
On July 17, 2009, the efforts of the Project’s partners and supporters paid off when Senator Jon Tester introduced it as part of the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.