(MTN NEWS – Lincoln) Some argue the best view of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Valley is a bird’s eye view.
Logging and wilderness conservation in Montana – two industries that aren’t commonly thought of working together.
But this project is different.
“The idea that we can bring sort of public interest, private interest, the idea that we can kind of sustain local small economies together, makes a lot of sense,” explained Jim Stone, a rancher in Ovando.
Enter the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project. A grassroots program, homegrown in the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys.
“Tithe idea came out of a lot of local people, really trying to understand how we can better manage the lands in the Blackfoot valleys,” said Stone.
That idea has stood in place for more than a decade, encouraging partnership and collaboration.
“You can’t do it by yourself anymore,” Stone said.
The best way to see the massive conservation project is from the sky, to understand the nature of the land.
“From the air, you can see the Bob Marshall was there, the Scapegoat was there, this is unique in our United States,” explained Bruce Gordon, founder and executive director of Eco Flight, the company that provided the aerial tour.
Currently, the project is proposing to add 83,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain Wilderness.
“You know, the natural heritage of this valley is some of this backcountry,” Stone said.
The project also proposes the Otatsy Recreation Area, which would open up 2,000 acres to high-class snowmobiling near Ovando.
The partnership between the conservation and the understanding of the need for economic growth help this project thrive.
With one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the state being outdoor recreation and tourism, the BCSP views protecting the options as key.
“The idea that we can sustain that, and that’s a local economy here for people to come here and use that backcountry,” said Stone.
Having the wilderness designation will provide protection for the headwaters and ensures public lands access.
“Where we see this, is this landscape view. Ridgetop to ridgetop management,” Stone explained.
Supporters include the outfitters, sportsman and women, conservation groups, businesses and even some elected officials.
Even with such a diverse group of people working towards the same goal, “We all can sit at the same table and talk about the hard issues and find working solutions.”
“It’s really about respect and building that trust amongst partners. When you do that, you can do great things on the ground,” Stone explained.
Montana is often referred to as the Last Best Place. With horizons that stretch for miles and peaks that touch the sky, Montana offers something for everyone. But also brings differences in opinions about land management.
“I think the success in this is that there have been hard conversations about how we interact with all the amazing landscape,” said Stone. “We’ve been able to bridge a lot of that and come together.”
Stone explained that now it’s up the Montana’s Congressional leaders to secure the wilderness land.
“We’re very hopeful that those three can come together and find some common ground and sort of move this thing forward,” said Stone.
Supporters believe if this project moves forward, so can future generations.
“Moving it to the next generation and that’s what we’re hopeful, that this project sort of sets a standard,” reminded Stone.
The project is planning on releasing new videos every month showcasing the benefits of the public lands until Montana’s Congressional leadership announces a conservation plan for the area.
The aerial tour was provided by EcoFlight, a conservation advocacy nonprofit that gives people the chance gain important perspectives when working with environmental issues.