A History of the Clearwater Resource Council

In 2003, a group of people in Seeley Lake met at the Seeley Lake Rural Fire Department and began work on a community fire plan. This plan was completed in 2004, but its creation and implementation revealed to the group that a local organization focused on natural resource management was needed for the community. The group planned initial meetings and invited all interested to attend, and through continuing discussions, the Clearwater Resource Council (CRC) was formed.

Initial efforts focused on addressing risks of wildfire, maintaining sustainable forestry, maintaining the diversity of wildlife in the Valley, evaluating potential future land uses, and reducing the spread of noxious weeds. CRC held monthly meetings with guest speakers addressing the above and many other natural resource topics. Many of the talks focused on providing a better understanding of the ecology of natural resources in the Valley and possible management options.

A first effort for CRC’s volunteers involved working with local, state, and federal agency personnel to establish the Seeley Lake Fuels Mitigation Task Force. Over the years the task force has been successful in revising the Fire Plan and acquiring several million dollars in county, state and federal grants to engage and support landowners in conducting fuel mitigation projects throughout the Valley, as well as helping coordinate interagency fire and fuel mitigation efforts.

Another early concern for CRC’s members was the potential future status of Plum Creek Timber Company lands in the Valley. With Plum Creek actively divesting its lands, the future status of its land holdings was a significant concern from both the potential loss of working forests as well as potential impacts from substantial new development that could impact the Valley’s important wildlife resources, as well as access to recreation. CRC initiated discussions with Plum Creek and in coordination with the Ecosystem Management Research Institute (EMRI), prepared a landscape assessment of the Clearwater Valley. Based on this assessment, CRC identified areas of the Valley with high resource values as well as other areas where potential development was more compatible. CRC used these results to seek a revision of the Seeley Lake Regional Land Use Plan by the Seeley Lake Community Council, an activity that took 4 years before a revision was approved by the Missoula County Commissioners. The assessment was updated with an aquatic component in 2008.

CRC also established an Invasive Weeds Task Force and with the assistance of EMRI prepared the Clearwater Valley Coordinated Invasive Weed Strategy. CRC acquired grants and worked with cooperators to map and treat invasive weeds following the guidelines of the strategy.

CRC assisted with an air quality program when EPA identified concerns with small particulates as an air pollution hazard. This program was eventually taken over by the Seeley Lake Community Foundation involving a stove buy-out program and providing firewood shelters.

CRC launched a coordinated forest management program designed to help address forestry issues across ownership boundaries. This included work of the Fuels Task Force addressing fuel mitigation needs as well as looking at other forest health and restoration issues in the Valley.

In 2006, CRC had acquired sufficient funding to hire a part-time executive director. This greatly expanded the ability of the organization to implement projects and to increase its outreach efforts to the community.

Beginning in 2007, CRC began a major expansion of its aquatics programs. It organized a Watershed Assessment Project coordinated with agencies, companies, and other organizations, and evaluated the overall status of water resources in the Valley. CRC launched the Adapt-A-Lake program using citizen volunteers to monitor the water quality of lakes in the Valley. It began working with local schools and a focus on monitoring Morrell Creek through Students in Action in 2011. Adopt-A-Stream, another program with citizen science, was initiated in 2013 and expanded in 2016 to include more than 25 streams across the basin. CRC's work in Seeley Swan High School and Seeley Lake Elementary has been visibly successful, involving hundreds of students in monitoring and other work related to water quality, native fish habitat and climate change. This work is captured in two CRC video productions, Students in Action with Climate Change (15 minutes) and Keeping Clearwater (14 minutes). Our early work and innovative aquatic programs led to CRC being selected in 2010 as a Bonneville Environmental Fund Model Watershed with a planned 10-year duration of support and funding.

CRC worked closely with its neighboring organizations to the north and south in addressing issues of regional importance. Annual meetings were initiated that addressed a regional theme. From this coordination, CRC and its partners applied to the U.S. Forest Service Collaborative Forest Landscape Planning Program after its passage by Congress. Out of this the Southwest Crown of the Continent project was selected as one of the first 10 CFLRP projects nationwide. CRC has been an active participant in this project since its inception.

CRC has participated with the Blackfoot Challenge for many years in presenting Pure Montana Tales six times per year, and initiated skills workshops 3 times per year called Clearwater Partner Workshops. Our newsletter, Clearwater Partners Newsletter, is available on-line and in the community, published quarterly.

Along with the water quality programs, in 2009 CRC began an aquatic invasive species program to monitor lakes for invasive weeds and invasive mussels. This program has expanded to include such tools as eDNA monitoring for invasive species. Thankfully, CRC's AIS monitoring program was one of the most comprehensive in Montana and has placed CRC in a leadership position in our area to address the new threat of invasive quagga mussels that arose state-wide in late 2016. CRC staff are coordinating many of the intensive efforts to inspect watercraft before launch, increase the AIS monitoring on our nine lakes and educate the community about the potential impact of invasive mussels.

In 2015, CRC initiated a community-wide effort to plan and implement a multi-use trails system that would benefit motorized and non-motorized users throughout the Clearwater Valley titled the Seeley Lake Trails Project. Project goals include: 1) improvements and maintenance for existing trail infrastructure, 2) some development of new trails and 3) marketing to promote outdoor recreation and tourism. CRC is functioning as a non-voting facilitator of this plan, and built into the process a series of community trainings in participatory decision making and conflict resolution. The public participation process in underway in 2017, seeking input and comments from a broad community of trail users both in-state and regionally.

Thus, CRC has a strong history of supporting community interests in a diversity of natural resource issues and programs. It continues to support its mission to engage the community and facilitate efforts that will enhance, conserve, sustain, and protect the natural resources and rural lifestyle of the Clearwater Watershed for present and future generations.

Download a pdf copy of this CRC History