Big Sky Connection - A bill introduced in Washington by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would create 80,000 acres of new wilderness in some of Montana's most pristine outdoor areas. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is popular among Montana voters and has been in the works for years. Comments from Juanita Vero, Missoula County Commissioner and owner of E Bar L Dude Ranch; and Todd Frank, owner, of Missoula-based Trailhead River Sports.
Click on the image above for the audio. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act is projected to help grow Montana's $7.1 billion outdoor recreation economy, protect tens of thousands of acres of wilderness, and establish two recreation areas. (Adobe Stock)
August 31, 2023 - Lawmakers in Washington held their first Senate hearing on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.
Authored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., it would add 80,000 acres of new wilderness area in the state. The act would sustain economic development and recreational use of National Forest land in Montana's Bob Marshall, Mission Mountains and Scapegoat wilderness areas. Proponents say it would designate new areas for recreation, safeguard crucial tributaries of the Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers and protect public lands and other waterways.
Juanita Vero, a Missoula County commissioner and whose family has owned the E-Bar-L Dude Ranch outside Missoula for nearly a century, said the act protects the things that make Montana so environmentally special.
"Clean air. Clean water. Open space. Unfettered access. Public lands. Public waters," Vero outlined. "These are all the things Montana stands for, and we get to offer that."
While the bill enjoys strong support, critics contend it contains too many special-interest carve-outs by designating currently protected land into snowmobile and mountain-bike areas, for example, and opens roadless areas for logging companies to bulldoze and clear-cut.
A recent public lands survey found 84% of Montanans support the act, which has been in the works for years.
Todd Frank, owner of Missoula-based Trailhead River Sports, said adding tens of thousands of acres of recreational area is going to bolster Montana's already popular reputation as a mecca for outdoor activities. He added it would be good for business, too.
"I'm a merchant, and everybody that walks through my door is a potential customer," Frank explained. "I look at this thing and say this is a solution that answers every one of my customers' needs that walk through the door."
The Blackfoot Watershed is a habitat for bears, moose, deer, elk, and wolverines. The rivers and streams are home to world-class cutthroat and bull trout, synonymous with fishing in Montana.