The Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project, an organization founded to steer the future of public lands long the southwestern edge of the Bob Marshall Complex, has reached its goal. Senator Tester introduced the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act the other week, and for fans of the area or folks just interested in what public lands advocacy and law might look like in the next 30 years, reading it is worth your time.
In brief, three small but significant Wilderness additions will be made to the Bob, and one to the Mission Mountains complex. A recreation area and a management area will be created along the edge of one of these additions, which will in essence allow for enhanced protection while not forbidding mountain biking. Logging and permanent road building will be prohibited within both the new Wilderness and the Rec/Management area, except those “that the secretary [of agriculture*] determines to be necessary to control fire, insects, and diseases…” All the land dealt with in the act are specifically withdrawn from any future public lands transfer, existing livestock grazing is grandfathered in (I don’t think this is relevant here), and a timetable is set mandating that “collaboratively developed restoration project” planning go forward.
Overall it is quite short and to the point, something both unusual in law and an increasingly common hallmark of Tester’s legislation. The bill is a good example of why he is such a well liked Senator. It is very much in the mold of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, which has been well received by just about everyone.
Padding Wilderness around the edges has been a trend for 20 or more years, and the Monture/Blackfoot additions shown above are good examples. On the one hand, these valleys are quite wild (the extensive logging is just to the south) are provide year-round habitat for elk, bears, and a whole lot of deer (both Whitetail and Mule). Ecologically it makes sense to have them as part of the Bob complex. One could ask why the additions weren’t larger, protecting winter and spring range by going all the way to the valley bottom. Presumably the restriction on logging and snowmachine access prevented this. On the other hand, Wilderness is less wilderness-y when the big wooden sign is found less than a mile from the trailhead. There is something both charming and accurate about hiking for 6 hours before you cross the imaginary threshold into the real deal.
More seriously, the Blackfoot-Clearwater Act does cut off access to some mountain bike trails. The recreation and management areas were drawn specifically to not cut off access to one more popular (and better) ride, but Falls and Monture Creeks will be lost for biking, as will a few others. Neither are especially good for cycling, there’s a very short window between when the snow dries from Monture and the horses beat it into a 6-8 foot wide muddy mess, and Falls is both steep and in places overgrown. I’m more worried about 202; D, 1-2, which uses the phrase “mechanized vehicles” specifically to refer to bikes. Insofar as any possible rollback of the blanket restriction on bikes in Wilderness is dependent upon the (historically valid) contention that “mechanical transport” was not necessarily intended to apply to bicycles and other human powered contraptions. It seems to me that this language represents a potential legal issue, and is indicative of a troublesome movement of public consensus concerning just what mechanized and mechanical actually mean.
Purely speaking, I have little issue with bikes being banned from the Bob. Doing so helps maintain its effective span. I do have a huge problem with an act such as this one, drafted it would seem largely by outfitters, which makes no mention of the considerable impact wrought by pack trains, nor any mention of the ongoing problem of getting the pesky buggers to follow the existing regulations concerning pack train size. The Blackfoot-Clearwater Act is being spun as a colloborative, win-win for all parties. But I don’t see much evidence of the horse folks having put actual skin in the game.
In the Trump era it is difficult to know what kind of traction this bill might get. I haven’t been able to find anything concerning what republican Senator Daines will do. As always, now is the time to let these officials know what the people are thinking.
*Yes, in the US forests are managed by Agriculture, National Parks by Interior. President Theodore Roosevelts deal with the devil.