The days are shortening, and the nights getting cooler. Rain is turning to snow, the gold and crimson foliage will drop, and the golden evening light will fade. This time of year is precious, and for many of us public land owners it marks the start of our time afield in earnest, attempting to harvest the protein that will sustain our families and ourselves throughout the long Montana winter.
Where I live, near the Blackfoot River, those of us who ply a stick and arrow have been pursuing bugling elk and wary bucks; others have been stripping articulated streamers in front of fall run brown trout. The lands and waters where we test ourselves are places treasured by diverse users, including mountain bikers, ATVers, loggers and birders, as well as hunters and anglers. Many of these publicly accessible acres that are so vital to our pursuits became accessible to the public through the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. That project is now the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, introduced by our senior senator, Jon Tester, on Feb. 7, 2018, and it deserves our support.
In this current divisive era, the BCSA represents an approach that is refreshingly different. For those of us who seek out the solace of quiet places where motorized or wheeled crafts do not roam – and those of us who live for breakneck speeds on single track trails – it exemplifies the power of compromise. When we are willing to share, listen and support a little give and take, we all tend to benefit. Support for the BCSA is diverse and multi-faceted. It designates places where we actively manage our forest as well as spots where we let nature simply take its course. When the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funded projects to make the landscape more resilient, it brought jobs and outside investments to Montana’s outdoor recreation economy – an economy that supports $7 billion in consumer spending in the state. This area gained national attention for bringing so many different user groups together and getting work done.
The Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys have long been economic drivers for the region, drawing recreationists from around the country for decades, as well as sustaining a timber economy. The BCSA safeguards some of our favorite and most prized places to hunt and fish while championing a sustainable timber economy. The proposed Otatsy Recreation Management Area would open 2,000 acres to high-quality snowmobiling near Ovando. Additionally, the Spread Mountain Recreation Management Area would preserve prized mountain-bike access. To date, the collaboration has created or maintained an average of 138 timber jobs and led to $33 million dollars in investments in the local economy, all while adding 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain Wildernesses. These are just a few of the reasons why more than 70 organizations support the BCSA, ranging from local timber producers to conservation organizations.
Fresh from a week in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, I am fortunate to have spent this time removed from the daily hustle and bustle. That week provided me the opportunity to contemplate the implications of and our need for places like this. When I’m in the wilderness, I live simply. The days are occupied with work, but the time available to appreciate our relationship to our environment is plentiful – and can be deeply profound. To deny our ties with nature and wild places is to deny being human.
I don’t like to leave a task half-finished in my daily life, and half-finished tasks in the backcountry can be downright dangerous. So, I’m making a special, conscious effort during this hunting season to push for the finalization of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. You should, too. Please contact our elected officials – specifically Rep. Gianforte and Sen. Daines – and urge them to advance the BCSA. Montanans from all walks of life want to see this bill signed.
Gerhardt Soeffker, a University of Montana alumnus, is a commercial airline pilot and small business owner living in Missoula. He is an active sportsmen and proud member of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.