OPINION: Pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

By Gerhardt Soeffker - November 8, 2018 - Originally published in the Missoulian.

Where I live, near the Blackfoot River, those of us who ply a stick and arrow have been pursuing bugling elk and wary bucks; others have been stripping articulated streamers in front of fall run brown trout. And as the days get shorter, and the nights cooler, it signals the start to general rifle season. For many of us public land owners, this precious time of year marks the start of our time afield in earnest, attempting to harvest the protein that will sustain our families and ourselves throughout the long Montana winter.

The lands and waters where we test ourselves are places treasured by diverse users, including mountain bikers, ATVers, loggers and birders, as well as hunters and anglers. Many of these publicly accessible acres that are so vital to our pursuits became accessible through the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. That project is now the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, introduced and championed by our senior senator, Jon Tester, on Feb. 7, 2018, and it deserves our support.

In this current divisive era, the BCSA represents something refreshingly different. For those of us who seek out the solace of quiet places where motorized or wheeled crafts do not roam — and those of us who live for breakneck speeds on single-track trails — it exemplifies the power of compromise.

Support for the BCSA is diverse and multi-faceted. It designates places where we actively manage our forest, as well as spots where we let nature simply take its course. When the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funded projects to make the landscape more resilient, it brought jobs and outside investments to Montana’s outdoor recreation economy — an economy that supports $7 billion in consumer spending in the state. This area gained national attention for bringing so many different user groups together and getting things done.

The Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys have long been economic driver for the region, drawing recreationist from around the country for decades, as well as housing a sustainable timber economy. To date, the collaboration has created or maintained an average of 138 timber jobs and led to $33 million in investments in the local economy, all while operating in the bounds of the proposed BCSA that would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain Wildernesses, safeguarding some of our favorite and most prized places to hunt and fish, but that’s not all.

The proposed Otatsy Recreation Management Area would open 2,000 acres to high-quality snowmobiling near Ovando. Additionally, the Spread Mountain Recreation Management Area would preserve prized mountain-bike access. There’s something in this for everyone, which is why more than 70 organizations support the BCSA, ranging from local timber producers to conservation organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

As a business owner, I don’t like to leave a task half-finished in my daily life, and half-finished tasks in the backcountry can be downright dangerous. So, I’m making a special, conscious effort during this hunting season to push for the finalization of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. You should, too. Please contact our elected officials — specifically U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines — and urge them to advance the BCSA. Montanans from all walks of life want to see this bill signed.

Gerhardt Soeffker, a University of Montana alumnus, is a commercial airline pilot and small-business owner living in Missoula. He is an active sportsman and member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

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