Protecting our Sporting Traditions Through the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act

Author: Alec Underwood

There are few places in Montana that emulate the quintessential sporting paradise like the Blackfoot River and the surrounding landscape. Whether you choose to cast to rising westslope cutthroat trout or pursue bulging bull elk with a bow in September, it’s an area that truly has everything that a hunter or angler could wish for.

That’s why there is no shortage of sportsmen and sportswomen, guides, outfitters, and other businesses that support the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, legislation that will protect our sporting heritage well into the future. Developed by Montanans for over a dozen years, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project has resulted in major investments in the local community and landscape restoration efforts.

Championed by Senator Jon Tester, the BCSA would honor more than a decade of collaboration between landowners, sportsmen, outfitters, conservation groups, and more. The legislation would permanently protect nearly 80,000 acres of prime fish and wildlife habitat and also further catalyze restoration projects.

Now more than ever, we need hunters and anglers who care about this iconic landscape to use their voice and encourage our elected officials to help get this legislation across the finish line. Take action now to tell our elected officials to help pass the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.


Conservation Funding is Economic Development

Montana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Frank Szollosi issued the following statement on Gov. Gianforte’s State of the State address: 

MWF appreciates working with Governor Greg Gianforte and Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Hank Worsech on the Montana Comeback. Montana hunters and anglers support the HEART Fund and other efforts that increase the resilience of wildlife, habitat and our fellow Montanans.

MWF also appreciates the Governor’s emphasis on increasing Montana’s competitive edge in the region.  To that end, conservation funding is economic development. Montana’s $7 billion outdoor recreation economy supports good jobs & businesses. Let’s invest in it together.

“We call on the Governor to increase public access through the numerous measures like Habitat Montana that have broad support among Montanans and are fully paid for by hunters,” said Frank Szollosi, MWF executive director. “We share his goal of promoting economic development, and our outdoor recreation economy is a big part of that. 

“That’s also why we want to see the will of voters, expressed through I 190 last fall, honored by spending the other half of the increased tax dollars from recreational marijuana spent as the people clearly stated they wanted it spent – on our state parks, wildlife and on efforts to preserve our working farms and ranches to benefit longtime Montana agricultural families, hunters, anglers and all Montanans who value open space, wildlife habitat and access.”

MWF Joins Conservation and Business Groups in Support of Much-Needed oil and gas Policy Reform

After years of an unbalanced approach and energy dominance agenda that has ignored conservation and recreation values on federal public lands, MWF is proud to continue our advocacy efforts to support common-sense reform to outdated and wasteful oil and gas leasing practices. In response to President Biden’s signing of an Executive Order that issues a pause on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, MWF joined Montana Wilderness Association, Friends of the Missouri Breaks, and Business for Montana’s Outdoors to issue the following statement of support:

Business, Conservation, and Hunting and Angling Groups

Applaud Biden’s Pause on Oil and Gas Leasing

Groups say pause is a much-needed opportunity to reform a broken leasing system

Helena, MT – A group of Montana-based business, conservation, and hunting and angling organizations have come together in support of the executive order President Biden is expected to sign today pausing oil and gas leasing on federally managed public lands.

The organizations point to the fact that 65% of all oil and gas leases in Montana, covering 1.2 million acres of public lands, are currently not being used, primarily because there is very little, if any oil and gas potential on public lands in Montana. They also point to the fact that currently there isn’t a single operating oil rig in the state.

“Our current leasing system hasn’t worked for Montana’s diverse economy and communities for a long time,” says Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors. “It makes no economic sense to lease public lands that have no oil and gas potential when land management agencies could instead be looking at how those lands could be used in service of creating more jobs and supporting more businesses that rely on our outdoor recreation economy – driven as it is by hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other activities that, all in all, generate some $7 billion a year for our state.”

Hayes adds that the pause will not at all restrict funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. “That’s an unfounded argument that has no basis in reality, as money for LWCF is funded entirely through currently producing off-shore oil and gas operations – which are unaffected by the pause – not areas that won’t be leased as a result of Biden’s executive order.”

Despite the fact that Montana holds little oil and gas potential, the BLM has not let up on offering hundreds of leases a year at regularly scheduled auctions. During the four years of the Trump administration, 30% of the leases the BLM auctioned off went for the minimum bid of $2 an acre.

Leases that aren’t bid on at the minimum $2 per acre are sold off the shelf for $1.50 an acre – a practice referred to as noncompetitive leasing.  During fiscal year 2018, the BLM sold more than 262,000 acres of public lands in Montana noncompetitively for a $1.50 acre.

Sen. Tester introduced a bill last year, called the Leasing Market Efficiency Act, that would have put an end to noncompetitive leasing.

“The BLM spends millions of dollars every year administering leases that lead to no oil and gas production, no jobs, no royalties, no public benefit,” says Joe Offer, executive director at Friends of the Missouri Breaks. “That’s money and resources the BLM could be spending on habitat improvements, law enforcement, and maintenance of trails, trailheads, fishing access sites, boat ramps, and many other things that are critical for Montanans’ outdoor recreation economy and our way of life.”

The group of Montana-based organizations supporting the leasing pause would like Congress and the administration to use the time to enact new policy and pass laws, such as Sen. Tester’s Leasing Market and Efficiency Act, that would reform the country’s oil and gas leasing system.

“There’s no doubt that our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities have suffered from a broken oil and gas leasing system, which also hurts taxpayers,” said Alec Underwood, federal conservation campaigns director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “A pause on oil and gas leasing will allow for a review of wasteful and outdated policies and ensure our $7 billion outdoor recreation economy, and the jobs it supports, are protected for this and future generations.”

Aubrey Bertram, eastern Montana field director at Montana Wilderness Association, argues that Congress must also update its bonding rates to cover reclamation costs, which haven’t been updated since the 1960s, and update royalty rates paid to local communities from nearby oil and gas production. Taxpayers for Common Sense estimate that Montanans lost out on approximately $56 million in rental revenue on federal oil and gas leases between FY09 and FY18.

“America’s current oil and gas leasing system – the leasing of publicly owned resources to private companies – is working against the American public and only serves Wall Street investors and wildcat speculators,” Bertram says. “We appreciate President Biden giving us a break while we take a hard look at this system so we can move forward with meaningful reforms to protect our Montana way of life.”

Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Montana Wildlife Federation issued the following statement on the appointment of Martha Williams as Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

“President Joseph R. Biden has made an excellent choice in appointing Martha Williams as Principal Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Tom Puchlerz, MWF board president. “Martha has a wealth of knowledge and experience in managing public wildlife, public lands and waters, and striking that balance between people and wildlife in the many complex issues around these incredible resources.

“Montana and all Americans will benefit from her two decades of experience at both the state and federal level in wildlife law and on-the-ground management of fish, wildlife and public lands.”  

“We also urge Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines to join MWF in supporting the historic nomination of Congresswoman Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior.”



Nick Gevock, MWF conservation director 406-533-9432

Frank Szollosi, MWF executive director 406-417-9909

Becoming a Master Naturalist

I have long said my dream job is to be a naturalist. Yet for many years, my outdoor recreation style was speedster. I was always looking to travel quickly and get a good workout. Then, in my late 20’s, I started hunting. I learned I had to move or sit quietly to have any hope of seeing animals before I spooked them. I began to appreciate slowing down and paying attention.

Outdoor Education

I have always loved outdoor exploration. As I paid more attention, my fascination with the complexities, interactions, and beauty of the natural world increased. Still, being a naturalist seemed about as likely as riding the range—a romantic, historical enterprise. Fast forward about a decade, and I stumbled across the Montana Natural History Center website. I found they offer and administer a course and certification called Master Naturalist. The focus of the program is to increase knowledge of Montana natural history and develop a corps of citizens dedicated to conservation education and service. It seemed too good to be true.

I researched further and found additional course options throughout the state, including Bozeman, Helena, Billings, Glacier National Park, and Swan Valley. Some condensed the 40-ish hours of instruction into one week, while others had weekly meetings over the course of several months. At the time, there were no options nearby, so I took a week of vacation time and attended the course in Missoula.

I loved it! We spent some time in the classroom investigating skull characteristics and insect orders. The bulk of our time was in the field though, watching, identifying, exploring, and sketching in our notebooks. The level of instruction was geared toward the layperson, matching my favorite definition of natural history:

“The study of the whole natural world, especially as concerned with observation rather than experiment, and presented in popular rather than academic form.”

Master Naturalist students study bird specimens.
Photo by Montana Natural History Center. Master Naturalist students study bird specimens to gain a better understanding of their anatomy and adaptations.

Master Naturalist

Now that I’m a Master Naturalist (how cool does that sound?), I enjoy the outdoors even more. I like the opportunity to share knowledge with others and contribute to citizen science. To maintain certification, I annually complete 20 hours of volunteer service, plus attend 8 hours of continuing education. I refer to the Montana Natural History Center’s website for clarifying information and resources.

With COVID-19 we all have been forced to slow down. In some ways that’s a good thing. It’s worth taking the time to appreciate our surroundings. We can develop a sense of connection that extends beyond the human world…and develop relationships with our fellow Montanans too.

By Megan Martinez

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