Missoulian: Opinion: Extreme conditions underscore need for Tester bill

by Terri Raugland, Tony Reinhardt and Zach Scott

This summer, Montana’s rivers have been suffering from an alarming combination of extreme conditions that are threatening our fisheries, our outdoor recreation economy, and the livelihoods that depend on both. As outfitters, guides and flyshop owners, we are among those whose livelihoods are at stake.

A winter of low snowpack and a spring with little precipitation was followed by record-high temperatures that started early in the summer and have lingered since. These drought conditions have resulted in warm water and low flows that are putting enormous pressure on our fisheries already under pressure from more people coming to Montana than ever before to fish.

There’s no getting around the fact that climate change is largely driving the dangerous extremities our rivers are facing and jeopardizing the businesses and jobs that rely on our world-class fisheries here in western Montana. That means our streams need all the help they can get to remain healthy and support robust trout populations, which are precious in their own right, but also part of the foundation for Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy and its 71,000-plus jobs.

One enormous source of help, at least for the Blackfoot River, is ready to go: the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA). We believe that passing this bill is essential for ensuring the long-term health of the Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers, as well as the Clark Fork River downstream.

We are urgently calling on U.S. Sen. Steve Daines to finally support the bill after years of giving it the cold shoulder. His seat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee puts him in a unique position to ensure this bill moves quickly to the full Senate and becomes law.

Since the bill was first introduced in 2017, its popularity among Montanans has only increased. According to the most recent poll, 75% of Montanans support the bill. That’s because it was built from the ground up by Montanans across the political spectrum representing a wide range of interests, from angling, conservation, timber, ranching, outdoor recreation, local business and so on.

Reintroduced this year by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, the BCSA would permanently protect some of the Blackfoot’s most important tributaries from any development that could obstruct or undermine their cold, clear flow into the main stem.

These tributaries – the North Fork, Monture Creek, Morrell Creek and the West Fork of the Clearwater – provide high quality spawning habitat for native fish like bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout, species that our state spent years, and millions of dollars, bringing back to life in the Blackfoot watershed. These tributaries are a constant source of cold and clean water, offering fish thermal refuge during drought conditions, such as those we are witnessing now.

Indeed, if we want to continue having a healthy Blackfoot fishery, we need to protect the tributaries feeding it, and that’s what the BCSA does.

The bill presents an amazing and much-needed opportunity to ensure a healthy Blackfoot and some of the finest trout habitat in western Montana. By passing the BCSA, we’ll not just be protecting our cherished fisheries, but also the outdoor recreation economy that sustains the Blackfoot’s communities, from Ovando to Missoula.

Sen. Daines, we’ve been asking that you support the BCSA for years now, and the stakes are only getting bigger every year, and so is the percentage of your constituents who support the bill. We’re running out of time. Let’s pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act this year, before it’s too late.

Terri Raugland is the co-owner of Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula. Tony Reinhardt is the owner of Montana Trout Outfitters, also in Missoula. Zach Scott is a fly fishing guide based in Missoula.