Blackfoot-Clearwater plan hears support

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A plan mixing timber, recreation and renewable energy projects in the Seeley Lake area got a warm reception from a Missoula audience Thursday evening.

About 150 people packed a Missoula Public Library meeting room to hear details of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project. A panel of sawmill workers, wilderness advocates, outfitters and land owners agreed it was better to work for goals they all agreed on than to continue old grudges.

“You've got to wonder why a cow guy gives a rat about wilderness guys,” project supporter and Ovando rancher Jim Stone said. “It's about people and community. The strong part of this project is it's homegrown. It's not grown by folks in New York or Washington, D.C., telling us how to manage our land.”

…The plan got a new ray of hope with passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act last month, which included multimillion-dollar funding for 10 landscape restoration projects in the country. Brennan said the Blackfoot-Clearwater will apply for that money.

Other questioners wondered if removing downed timber and slash to feed a biomass boiler wouldn't cause long-term harm to the forest health. Wilderness Society ecologist Tom DeLuca responded that the planners had considered that problem, and set up the project so forest treatment would improve soil nutrients while removing fire hazards.