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Tester's Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act stalled in Senate committee

BCSA
Keghan Crossland
/
Unsplash

A bill to extend protected wilderness areas in western Montana failed to make it out of committee after U.S. Sen. Steve Daines voted against it last week.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, written by Sen. Jon Tester, would create protections for nearly 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas. It would also open lands in the Blackfoot and Clearwater Valleys for recreation and promote timber harvest and forest restoration near Seeley Lake.

The bill has the support of environmental advocacy groups including Wild Montana, the Montana Wilderness Society and MT Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, as well as outdoor recreation industry members. Results from the University of Montana’s 2022 Voter Survey on Public Lands show that 83% of Montanans support the act.

But Daines told the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday the bill fails to address existing Wilderness Study Areas, which, he has argued, are not suitable for “wilderness” status and should be released from federal protections and restrictions.

“The Blackfoot Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act designates 80,000 acres of new wilderness without making a dent in the backlog of acres determined unsuitable for wilderness decades ago," Daines said.

The bill received a tie vote of 10 to 10 and failed to make it out of the committee. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can motion to discharge the bill out of committee and onto the full Senate for a vote.

Ellis Juhlin is YPR's Statehouse reporter based in Helena.