Tim Love

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Back in November, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (BCSA) received a hearing in a Senate committee, putting the bill on track for passage within the next year.

As a member of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project (BCSP) steering committee, I helped develop the bill. I’m proud that the most recent polling shows that 75% of Montanans, across the political spectrum, support the bill. That’s because the steering committee carefully considered how the bill can best meet the needs of the Blackfoot’s fish and wildlife populations, and of the people who live, work, and play in the area.

Our bill adds nearly 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas, permanently protecting the four most crucial tributaries of the Blackfoot River and helping sustain the good health of the entire watershed. That health is crucial for native trout, grizzly bears, and other wildlife. It’s also crucial for the local outdoor recreation economy and the jobs that rely on it.

In hopes of chipping away at conservationists’ support of the BCSA, opponents of the bill have been spreading misleading information about the bill, especially regarding its forestry provisions. Lost is this simple fact: the legislation does not mandate or even initiate a single timber harvest. Nor does the bill allow the Forest Service to waive environmental reviews of any potential timber sale in the area.

What the legislation does do is require the Forest Service to conduct a landscape assessment of the area’s restoration needs and develop a schedule to address them. That assessment will occur as part of the upcoming forest planning process, no matter if the bill passes or not.

Opponents also ignore that all of the BCSP’s forest restoration goals have already been met — through the Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative (SWCCC), an offshoot of the BCSP.

Thanks to Sen. Tester, the SWCCC received $35 million in federal investment over a decade ago to conduct several much-needed, ecologically-sound forest restoration projects. With that initial investment, the SWCCC has pumped $92 million into the local economy and created or maintained 153 jobs.

To date, that investment has enabled the SWCCC to:

- Reduce fuels on 28,500 acres of the wildland-urban interface in the Blackfoot, significantly protecting communities and hundreds of homes from wildfire.

- Restore more than 200 miles of stream.

- Improve nearly 63,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

- Treat more than 57,000 acres for invasive and exotic species.

- Decommission more than 200 miles of roads.

- Reclaim 47 placer mines.

- Maintain 3,500 miles of multiple-use trail.

As the local business conducting most of these forestry projects, Pyramid Lumber has played a critical role in producing much of the nearly 200,000 ccf of commercial wood products that have resulted from the SWCC, helping it provide dozens of stable rural jobs. Though the company does not stand to financially benefit from passage of the BCSA, Pyramid has nonetheless endorsed the bill, proving itself a good-faith partner to conservation groups, outfitters, ranchers, and others that make up the BCSP.

Opponents of the BCSA probably come from places where that kind of cooperation does not exist, where bipartisanship and collaboration are dirty words and ideological purity means more than offering viable solutions for public lands or the public good.

As author and my friend John Maclean (son of Norman) reminds us in a recent Washington Post guest column in support of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, “conservation is not a zero-sum game.”

The BCSP believes that whole-heartedly. We believe that we can protect wildlife, native trout, and water quality while helping businesses and communities up and down the Blackfoot thrive.

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Tim Love served as a U.S. Forest Service district ranger for the Seeley Lake Ranger District on the Lolo National Forest for nearly twenty years, retiring in 2014, after which he joined the BCSP steering committee.