Passing Forest Jobs bill obvious
Many Montanans are closely watching the ongoing debate over how to get more timber and restoration work done on U.S. Forest Service lands in Montana at a landscape level, while further protecting clean water and wildlife habitat. But as that larger debate goes on, it is important to take stock of the smaller success stories already under way.
The Blackfoot and Clearwater watersheds are home to one of those stories.
The Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers drain one of the most iconic landscapes in Montana, a place that draws people in to live, play and work. These rivers also feed such remarkable communities as Ovando and Seeley Lake, which have learned to work together to get more done in the woods and protect the wildness that has always defined the larger landscape.
For more than five years, these communities worked to design the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, a vision for wilderness, snowmobile recreation, and increased forest management for commercial timber harvest and restoration.
In summer 2009, Montana Sen. Jon Tester validated these efforts by introducing this project as part of his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. The next year, the communities also worked on a related effort to win funding from a new federal program that promotes rural jobs and forest restoration – the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.
Only 10 such projects were selected nationwide for this program. One includes lands within the Blackfoot-Clearwater, where it will help fuel a decade of work to restore clean water, improve wildlife habitat for elk and grizzly bears, control weeds, decommission old forest roads, improve recreation and access opportunities, and make communities safer from wildfire – all while creating new economic prospects. To find out more, visit www.swcrown.org.
If work proceeds according to plan, this summer logs on trucks will be coming out of the Blackfoot-Clearwater river valleys. And those trucks will be cheered by a diverse group of supporters, from Pyramid Mountain Lumber and the Clearwater Resource Council to The Wilderness Society and the Montana Wilderness Association.
We'll be cheering because we know that thriving communities with decent jobs in the woods can exist alongside thriving wildlife with plenty of habitat. We'll be cheering because those trucks represent revenue for local mills and healthier watersheds. We'll be cheering because those trucks are a clear sign that we are moving past draconian timber wars and toward a Montana where we embrace responsible management and diversity of uses on public and private lands.
But, our work is far from finished. The original vision of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project includes permanent protection for wildlife habitat to ensure that these watersheds remain fabled for hunting and fishing for generations. Passing the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act is the obvious next step.
And of course, there are many more steps in this new journey. If we want collaborative forest management to succeed in Montana, we need to focus on increasing our capacity even as we manage to complete small projects. If we are serious about collaboration then we need to keep working in the Blackfoot-Clearwater and across the state.
Montana livelihoods and the Montana way of life depend on it.
This opinion piece was signed by the following members of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project: Bill Wall of Seeley Lake, Jim Stone of Ovando, Smoke Elser of Missoula, Jack Rich of Seeley Lake and Orville Daniels of Missoula; and the Wilderness Society, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Montana Wilderness Association and Clearwater Resource Council.