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Montanans work together to make our state a better place. We collaborate and cooperate, share ideas and hold shared values such as the conservation of our natural resources. That’s why The Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM) supports the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP).

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project consists of a diverse group of loggers, wilderness advocates, snowmobilers, and business owners who came together 10 years ago to create a shared vision for the Seeley Lake Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest. The BCSP has three main components: restoration, recreation, and conservation. Each of these components highlights the diverse interests of people in the Seeley-Swan and Ovando areas. The BCSP is representative of the type of natural resource management that we should be encouraging all over this state and country.

To date, the BCSP has created or maintained 160 jobs, annually, through the Southwest Crown Collaborative, an effort established with the support of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., that has resulted in significant forest restoration accomplishments. These jobs are vital for our local economies and the longevity of our communities. They range from invasive weed removal and revegetation, to responsible harvesting of timber that reduces wildfire risk.

As ASUM president, one of my concerns is that my fellow students can benefit from an active economy and a thriving job market, both during and after their time in college. This proposal helps ensure that for Montana students. But there’s more to do.

We have the privilege of going to school in an area dominated by landscapes worth protecting for future generations of Montanans. The Swan, Blackfoot, and Clearwater River valleys are thriving ecosystems. The glaciated peaks of the Swan and Missions offer unparalleled views. At the University of Montana, these are our outdoor classrooms. Whether you specialize in Forestry, Wildlife Biology, Economics, or Geography, the Blackfoot area is critical for many fields of study. That’s why ASUM supports the BCSP’s proposal to add 83,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness areas.

Another big draw to the University of Montana for out of state students is unique access to outdoor recreation. From backpacking, to mountain biking, to quiet paddling in canoes, the BCSP celebrates the diverse interests of recreationists. The proposal designates a winter snowmobile area, and expands mountain biking opportunities in the Seeley-Swan and Lincoln areas.

Last month, the ASUM Senate voted to support the BCSP through a formal endorsement. ASUM believes in collaborative efforts and responsible natural resource management. The BCSP’s lessons in cooperation are an example for all groups of diverse stakeholders, such as ASUM, to follow.

We have a responsibility to future generations to ensure our natural heritage is just as pristine as it is now. Let’s work together and give our support as students, community members, and Montanans to this important proposal.

I encourage you to write to our Congressional delegation and ask for their support, to learn more by visiting blackfootclearwater.org, and perhaps most importantly, to get out and explore the Blackfoot and Clearwater valleys -- you won’t be disappointed.

-- Cody Meixner, president, Associated Students of the University of Montana, Missoula

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