The Blackfoot River in western Montana is one of the most legendary fisheries in the United States. It’s also a point of pride for anglers across the state and for those of us who operate fly-fishing operations here in Montana. That’s why I am a wholehearted supporter of the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, reintroduced earlier this year by Sen. Jon Tester.
I’m calling on Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte, two avid fly fishermen, to support the BCSA.
I, and many of my customers, often make the trip to the Blackfoot for the opportunity to cast their lines into the same emerald waters that Norman Maclean eulogized in his novella, “A River Runs Through It.” But we revere this river not just because it’s the subject of one of the greatest stories ever written about Montana. We revere it because it supports vibrant populations of trout, including westslope cutthroat and bull trout — two native species that Montanans are incredibly lucky to still have inhabiting our waters.
The Blackfoot River is such a healthy fishery because it contains the four essential c’s. It’s clean, cold, complex, and connected, mostly thanks to the great shape of many tributaries that feed the main stem. According to fish biologists with Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Montana Trout Unlimited, the four most crucial of these tributaries are the North Fork of the Blackfoot, Monture Creek, Morrell Creek, and the West Fork of the Clearwater.
The BCSA would expand the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountain Wilderness Areas by 80,000 acres to include large sections of all four of these tributaries. These designations would permanently protect the habitat that enable westslope cutthroat and bull trout to thrive up and down the main stem of the Blackfoot and Clearwater Rivers and into the mountains.
But we cannot take the current good health of the Blackfoot for granted. Mining, over-grazing, and dewatering severely degraded the Blackfoot’s fishery once before, and it has taken over 30 years of trust-building, collaboration and partnerships between ranchers, anglers, conservationists and local communities — not to mention millions of dollars of investment — to restore this Montana treasure to the healthy fishery that it is today. The BCSA would secure that good health for future generations.
Because of what the Blackfoot means to Montana’s anglers, and how crucial it is that we do all we can to protect Montana’s populations of wild and native trout, we are urging Daines to co-sponsor the bill and make sure that it receives a markup this fall in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Daines is a member.
Unfortunately, Daines blocked the bill from making its way through the committee last year. I hope he has a change of heart this year and acts on the wishes of the 73 percent of Montanans who want this bill to become law (according to a 2018 University of Montana public lands poll).
Likewise, I hope that Gianforte introduces a companion BCSA bill in the House of Representatives.
For more information on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act and to watch a short film on how the bill will help protect the Blackfoot’s fishery, go to blackfootclearwater.org.
While you’re there, please join us in endorsing the bill and letting Daines and Gianforte know that you want them to support it too.
Dan Vermillion is owner and operator of Sweetwater Travel in Livingston as well as the most recent past chairman of Montana’s Fish and Wildlife Commission.