Many Montanans are closely watching the ongoing debate over how
to get more timber and restoration work done on 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
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, 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
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
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
Montana livelihoods and the Montana way of life depend on it.
Jim Stone lives in Ovando. Co-signed by Bill Wall, Seeley Lake;
Smoke Elser, Missoula; Jack Rich, Seeley Lake; Orville Daniels,
Missoula; Wilderness Society; Pyramid Mountain Lumber; Montana
Wilderness Association; Clearwater Resource Council.