MISSOULA CURRENT: Tester urges Murkowski, Manchin to push Blackfoot-Clearwater bill out of committee

by Martin Kidston, Missoula Current

Sen. Jon Tester this week sent a letter to the leaders of a U.S. Senate committee urging them to move forward on legislation regarding his grassroots Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

The legislation, crafted by a coalition of diverse interest groups and supported by 73 percent of Montanans, remains locked in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Tester is working to push the bill forward.

“This legislation is good for conservation, and it is good for business,” Tester wrote in his letter to Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. “This legislation received a hearing last Congress, and I encourage you to allow this proposal to continue moving forward by including it in a legislative mark up.”

In early June, Tester held a rally for the legislation in Bonner that included members of the timber and conservation community who came together to help draft the legislation.

During the rally, Tester expressed dismay that the bipartisan bill remains stuck in committee and vowed to continue his efforts to move it forward.

“We need to get it out of that committee and have some success passing this as a standalone piece of legislation, or attaching it to another piece of legislation that’s moving forward,” he said last month. “As in many things, you may ask why a bill like this can’t get passed. I’ll be damned if I can give you an answer to that question.”

As written, the bill would protect nearly 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas and open more than 2,000 acres to snowmobiling and another 3,800 acres for mountain biking and hiking.

The measure would also require the Forest Service to prioritize its review of future recreational trail proposals, and to conduct an assessment on forest health to identify new timber projects on the landscape.

“This act would enact a multi-use proposal from the collaborative that balances our outdoor recreation economy, timber opportunities and landscape conservation,” Tester wrote. “Now is the time to move forward with this responsible land management legislation that over 70 percent of Montanans support,” Tester wrote.