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The Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act was recently reintroduced by Montana Senator Jon Tester. The BCSA has been hailed as an important step towards conservation of our public lands on the Lolo National Forest and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. However, there are several aspects of the bill that remain troubling.

The BCSA is the product of a “forest collaborative,” whose membership includes Loren Rose, Chief Operating Officer of Pyramid Mountain Lumber Company. Mr. Rose has been refreshingly honest in his characterization of the collaborative’s accomplishments. Echoing his words from 2017, he said “Everyone who collaborates expects to get something out of it, something they couldn’t get otherwise,” said. “Logs on trucks. Acres for wilderness. So far, our collaborative partners have got very little, but they supported us wholeheartedly.” (Missoulian, 6/8/19). After twelve years of operation, the main product of the forest collaborative has been “logs on trucks.” Unfortunately, the BCSA has a devil-in-the-details provision to limit public involvement and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis of timber sales and associated roadbuilding in order to get “logs on trucks.” This is an unscientific piecemeal approach meant to satisfy local special interests at the expense of the national public interest.

The worst component of the BCSA is how it treats the Monture area, a crucial portion of the NCDE with excellent bull trout and grizzly bear habitat and a major migration corridor for elk herds. Rather than adding the entire area to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness, the BCSA splits it in half by establishing a major mountain biking play area in the heart of the area, thereby breaking the heart of legendary outfitter Smoke Elser (Missoulian, 4/23/17). According to Dr. Christopher Servheen, retired national Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, “I do believe that mountain bikes are a grave threat to bears–both grizzly and black–for many reasons. High speed and quiet human activity in bear habitat is a grave threat to bear and human safety and can certainly displace bears on trails and from trails. Bikes also degrade the wilderness character of wild areas by mechanized travel at abnormal speeds.” (Mountain Journal 5/22/19). A mountain bike play area in Monture is an affront to sound science and responsible management of grizzly bear habitat.

The Otatsy snowmobile play area is also in the middle of prime grizzly bear habitat including denning areas. In concert with the mountain biking area, more than 6,000 acres will be directly impacted and the wilderness and wildlife qualities diminished. The BCSA fails to recognize that all roadless areas are the heart of Montana’s wildlife and wildlands heritage and are what make our region unique as a world-class destination.

A far better alternative for protection of these priceless roadless lands and habitat linkages is The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. NREPA is based upon sound science and does not trade away roadless lands to special interest groups including increasingly radical anti-wilderness mountain bikers. Time is short to protect these ecosystems before they shrink away. I support NREPA because it will halt the loss of roadless areas, habitat linkages and waterways native to elk, grizzly bear, bull trout and westslope cutthroat. No one bill can do it all, but NREPA will set the stage for permanent protection of what makes our region special. You are encouraged to contact Senator Tester in support of NREPA.

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Mike Bader is an independent consultant and sole proprietor of Ecological Research Services in Missoula, Montana. He has more than 35 years of experience in grizzly bear research and management, public lands and wildlife management policy in the Northern Rockies.

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