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Tucked in the valleys and mountains that surround Ovando and Seeley Lake are the many creeks that feed into the Blackfoot River. Among them are the North Fork of the Blackfoot, Monture Creek, Morrell Creek and West Fork of the Clearwater. These tributaries are the lifeblood of the Blackfoot watershed and its fishery, as Ryen Neudecker of the Big Blackfoot chapter of Montana Trout Unlimited explains in a recently released short film we also appear in titled “Hallowed Waters: The Legacy and Lifeblood of the Big Blackfoot.”

To protect the Blackfoot River long term, we need to start with protecting these key tributaries. That’s what the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act would do. The BCSA would expand the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain wilderness areas by 80,000 acres to include large sections of the North Fork, Monture Creek, Morrell Creek and West Fork Clearwater. These designations would protect the habitat that enable westslope cutthroat and bull trout to thrive up and down the main stem of the Blackfoot and into the mountains.

We both live along the Blackfoot in Greenough, not far from where the Clearwater River joins the Blackfoot. Because this bill is critically important for protecting the entire Blackfoot watershed, we’re calling on U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to reintroduce the BCSA and on U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte to support this Montana-made bill.

Ranchers, business owners, outfitters, timber mill operators, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, sportsmen and conservationists who live in the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys spent more than a decade hammering out details of this landscape-sized proposal. Because so many interests were at the table in crafting this proposal, the BCSA enjoys the support of 73 percent of Montanans across the political spectrum, according to the 2018 University of Montana Public Lands Survey.

Among the many things that make this river so special is its superlative health. That health is reflected in the cold, crystalline waters that flow down from the mountains all the way to the Clark Fork. A great indication of just how healthy the Blackfoot is, in recent years biologists have tracked bull trout migrating all the way from Missoula to the North Fork.

The Blackfoot holds a special place in the heart of Montanans. Thousands come from around the state — and around the world — every year to camp by, float and fish the river and to hike up its tributaries into some of the wildest county in the Lower 48. The Blackfoot is also, of course, the river that Norman Maclean eulogizes in “A River Runs Through It.” Since the publication of his novella, the river has become one of Montanan’s most powerful cultural touchstones, drawing Maclean fans and fly fishermen and women from around the world to connect with its hallowed waters.

Given how important the Blackfoot is for Montana, we can’t take its health for granted. The BCSA would provide the insurance and assurance we need to secure that health for generations to come and to stop the kind of development that could degrade its vital tributaries and with them the entire Blackfoot River itself.

This Montana-made, fully vetted proposal deserves support of the entire Montana delegation. It needs to be signed into law.

Support the Blackfoot River by endorsing the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act at blackfootclearwater.org, where you can watch our film “Hallowed Waters” and learn more about why the BCSA is critical for protecting the entire watershed.

We’ve inherited an incredible legacy. The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act allows us to pass it on.

Juanita Vero is co-owner of E Bar L Guest Ranch in Greenough. Jerry O'Connell, of Greenough, is executive director of the Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper.

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