More than 7,000 acres of forestland north of Whitefish is being permanently protected thanks to a public-private partnership devoted to sustainable forest management, public access for recreation and habitat conservation.
The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC), has announced the conservation of 7,018 acres of forestland east of U.S. Highway 93 near Olney. The groups worked together to acquire the land and a conservation easement that will permanently restrict commercial and residential development, protect important fish and wildlife habitat, ensure sustainable forest management, and secure public access for recreation.
The land, spanning nearly 11 square miles, will be added to Stillwater State Forest, the largest state forest in Montana with more than 90,000 acres.
A series of transactions and the support of Montana’s congressional delegation made this significant conservation achievement possible. The Trust for Public Land purchased the property from Weyerhaeuser and FWP purchased a conservation easement on the property to ensure it will be permanently managed for sustainable forestry and natural resource benefits. DNRC bought the conservation easement encumbered property from The Trust for Public Land.
In one of the fastest growing regions in the Northern Rockies, this conservation project protects local forestry jobs, clean water, public access for outdoor recreation and important habitat for fish and wildlife, including grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and westslope cutthroat trout.
The agreement represents the successful completion of the first phase of the multi-phased Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, which encompasses a 13,398-acre block of forestland surrounded on three sides by Stillwater State Forest. The first phase focuses on the Lazy Creek portion of the property.
State, federal and private partners jointly funded the $15.5 million conservation easement. Federal funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund was provided to the project through the USDA Forest Legacy Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund program. The Land and Water Conservation Fund uses a small fraction of revenues generated from offshore oil and gas royalty payments to protect and enhance outdoor recreation and natural resources; it is not supported with general taxpayer dollars.
The Forest Legacy Program is ideally suited to projects such as this. The program was established by Congress in 1990 to protect environmentally important forestlands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses.
Additional partners include the Montana Fish & Wildlife Conservation Trust, established by Congress to conserve fish and wildlife habitat and promote public access, and FWPs’ Habitat Montana program which is funded by hunter license dollars and used to protect vital wildlife habitat.
Philanthropic support was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America Program, the Whitefish Community Foundation and several individuals.
The project was strongly supported by Montana U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R).
Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, added, “This project increases public access to public lands, allows for responsible timber harvest, protects wildlife, helps bolster the local economy, and provides clean water to folks across Northwest Montana. It’s a win-win-win-win-win. That’s why I’m fighting to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, because it makes projects like this possible.”
“It’s good to see federal, state, and private partners come together to protect public access and timber management,” said Senator Steve Daines, R-MT.