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In 1964, Congress designated the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Fifty-two years later, on May 12, 2016, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project, which -- among other things -- would modestly expand the boundaries of the "Bob."

Why is this relevant? Because big game needs big country. When it comes to abundant wildlife populations, one of our biggest challenges is providing enough room for wildlife to roam. The most fundamental way to protect our hunting heritage is by protecting the habitat that both wildlife and hunters depend upon.

In their recent resolution supporting the project, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission addressed this positive relationship between protecting security habitat and the abundance of Montana’s big game species.

They said the Blackfoot Clearwater project would help ensure the future viability of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range, which supports wintering elk, mule deer, whitetail populations and over 200 other species of wildlife who utilize the surrounding habitat year-round.

They also said the project will help preserve the future viability of Montana’s native fishes, including bull trout and Westslope cutthroat, by protecting the North Fork of the Blackfoot, Monture Creek, and West Fork of the Clearwater River -- all are critical habitat for spawning fish.

It’s important to recognize that nobody is proposing these new protections lightly. This effort is community driven and developed by local residents. Several long-time Seeley Lake and Ovando residents and business owners came together around the local sawmill’s conference room table 10 years ago to hammer out a proactive agreement for the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys. That’s why all three local county commissions in the area support the project.

The Blackfoot Clearwater project isn’t just about protecting important headwaters like Monture Creek, the North Fork of the Blackfoot and the West Fork of the Clearwater River. It also included active forest management, restoration, and local jobs in the woods.

Community members have already successfully leveraged federal funds to pay for ongoing stream restoration and vegetative treatment on our national forests. These treatments have improved habitats for elk, bighorn sheep and deer populations. They have improved watershed health by reestablishing natural stream channels, combating noxious weeds, and removing barriers to fish migration. Importantly, they have also created jobs.

But the work is not done. Protective status for the higher elevation headwaters has yet to be realized. It’s time to change that. We hope Montana’s delegation will pay attention to the recent endorsement by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project will protects our rights to fish and hunt on public land in Montana for generations to come.

Hunters and anglers have always been at the vanguard when it comes to conserving critical habitats, and special places. It’s why we are joining the Fish and Wildlife Commission in urging our Montana delegation to introduce the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project as soon as possible.

Kathy Hadley is a lifelong hunter and angler, lives on a ranch in the Deer Lodge valley and is currently president of the Montana Wildlife Federation board of directors.

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