Great Falls Tribune: Tester praised for his support of public lands. Much remains to be done

by David Murray

On the eve of National Public Lands Day, Montana conservationists gathered at Giant Springs State Park in Great Falls to recognize Sen. Jon Tester for his sponsorship of legislation to protect public lands.

The event, which was hosted by the Montana Wildlife Federation and attended by representatives from at least eight additional conservation organizations, heralded this year’s passage of the landmark Great American Outdoors Act, and called for continued effort to pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

“Now with the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act we can look to the future and how we can protect some of Montana’s most cherished landscapes,” said James Wyatt, a board member of the Montana Wildlife Federation.

Signed into law last August, the Great American Outdoors Act authorized permanent federal funding of about $900 million a year for the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund, the primary source of monies for land acquisition by the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The LWCF is also used by states to acquire and develop thousands of fishing access sites, playgrounds, public swimming pools and recreational trails. The Great American Outdoors Act also dedicates $1.9 billion per year to address a multi-billion dollar backlog of repairs and improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and rangelands. Tester and Sen. Daines were both co-sponsors of the Great American Outdoors Act. The bill was also endorsed by Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte.

“This is a monumental victory to celebrate,” Tester said on Friday of passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, “a battle to keep our public lands in public hands; but we cannot forget there’s still a war going on. There are still powerful special interests that would like to scoop up these public lands and sell them off for their own profit.

“We continue to see bills that remove protection for hundreds of thousands of acres of public land, but there’s also the other side of the spectrum, the work you guys do and the fight that were doing right now as we speak to get the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act passed.”

Tester introduced the Blackfeet Clearwater Stewardship Act into the U.S. Senate in June 2019. If passed into law, the act would extend federal protections to 79,000 acres of wildlife habitat adjacent to the Bob Marshall, Mission Mountains, and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas. The Blackfeet Clearwater Stewardship Act would also open 2,000 acres of currently closed land to snowmobiling, and protect 3,835 acres for mountain biking and hiking.

Tester testified in support of its passage before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Sept. 16, 2020.

“Because of Sen. Tester’s leadership we are closer than ever to seeing Seeley Lake and Ovando residents’ vision realized for the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act; a bill that resulted from years and years of collaboration between ranchers, bikers, hunters, anglers, timber industry and outfitters,” Wyatt said of Tester’s advocacy of the bill. “This bill would protect some of our highest quality habitat that we have here in Montana.”

“Its a bill that was built by collaboration; by folks who work together to develop a Montana made solution for our public lands,” Tester said on Friday. “We need to get that good proposal passed. We need to get it through Congress, just like the Great American Outdoors Act.”

He also made pointed reference to the upcoming general election, which will take place in little more than five weeks. Tester is not running for re-election this year, but said on Friday that he believes there is more on the line with this election than ever before.

“We need level headed leaders back in Washington D.C.,” he said. “folks like the ones who negotiated the Blackfoot Clearwater agreement, leaders who are going to make bold strides towards fighting things like climate change, who ground their policy in solid science, that are going to listen to the everyday folks who truly have made Montana the last best place.”