Land Trust News

Kelly Kountz Photo / Courtesy of Gallatin Valley Land Trust

Land Trust Cooperation Creates NW Montana Working Forest Conservation

     The Trust for Public Land and Flathead Land Trust have teamed up with F. H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company to create a 1,072-acre working forest surrounded by forested public land north of Whitefish Lake near Olney.

     The project, which closed in late December 2020, transferred land ownership to Stoltze under the  terms of a conservation easement held by FLT. The project was put together by TPL, who had owned the land since 2017, when it had been gifted to them by Cindy and Alan Horn.

     The end result, reports both TPL and FLT, is a working forest that provides public access and wildlife habitat conservation. 

     Three great statements from the FLT website: 

     “This project is just one chapter in our long history of conserving working forests in Montana,” said Dick Dolan, Northern Rockies Regional Director for The Trust for Public Land, “We are proud to be able to preserve some of the region’s  most special places for outdoor recreation, while also ensuring the health and continuity of sustainable forestry. This project would not have been possible without the support of our exceptional partners.”

     “This incredible property is now conserved in perpetuity and protects important wildlife habitat and water quality along the Stillwater River, as well as open space and forest resources for sustainable management,” said Paul Travis, Executive Director of the Flathead Land Trust. “The conservation easement also secures access for the use and enjoyment of the public adjacent to other public lands.  As the Flathead’s community-based land trust, we are proud to be a partner on this significant forestland conservation project with The Trust for Public Land and F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co.”

      “Putting this property under conservation easement and long-term sustainable forest management is a great example of how healthy forests support healthy communities, both the two- and four-legged kind” said Paul McKenzie, Lands & Resource manager for Stoltze.

Working Forest Project Finalized in Flathead County

The Lost Trail Conservation Easement provides recreational access while ensuring sustainable timber harvesting.

“This project truly meets a triple bottom line by providing outdoor access for the community, protecting wildlife habitat and ensuring timber harvesting can continue. It’s projects like this that demonstrate the power of conservation for communities across Montana. We’re grateful to the partnership and support of SPP and FWP in making this project a reality,” said Catherine Schmidt, a Trust for Public Land field representative.

Lost Trail Conservation Easement

Montana TNC Works to Conserve “River Runs Through It” Legacy Lands

The Nature Conservancy in Montana has finalized a 12,308-acre transaction with the US Forest Service that improves forest management, retains recreational access and protects wildlife habitat in the headwaters of the Blackfoot and Clearwater rivers.

The Missoulian article points out the unique and valuable recreational and conservation aspects of the project, which transfers the lands into public ownership managed by the USFS:

The mountains harbor significant populations of deer and elk, threatened bull trout and grizzly bears. They are also popular with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers, anglers, backpackers, berry-pickers and mountain bikers. The Rattlesnake and Mission Mountain wilderness areas and the Flathead Indian Reservation’s South Jocko Primitive Area border this forest.

“This is the culmination of a great partnership with TNC and other partners in that particular landscape,” said Lolo District Ranger Jen Hensiek, whose jurisdiction abuts Carver’s. “I know our kids and kids’ kids are going to be able to enjoy that landscape. It allows more wildlife continuity, more recreation access into those areas, and into the (Rattlesnake) national recreation area. And I know it comes with some work.”


Headwaters Montana Exits With Support to MLR and FLT

      Headwaters Montana, a conservation organization operating in the greater Flathead area for 13 years, announced in December it would be closing its doors at the end of the year.

     In a Kalispell Daily Inter Lake article, the Bigfork-based organization announced it was making donations to the Montana Land Reliance Bigfork Natural Area Project and to the Flathead Land Trust Bad Rock Canyon Project. 

PPLT Leads the Way On Greenway Project

     Prickly Pear Land Trust is the new owner of 322 acres of former ASARCO East Helena land that will be conserved, eventually made accessible, and later be conveyed to the East Helena Public Schools.

     The East Helena Greenway Project, ten years in the making with a partnership that includes Montana Environmental Trust Group, the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, EPA, and others, also involves an eight mile community trail.

     Project partners PPLT, East Helena government officials, and East Helena school officials, and others celebrated the land transfer to PPLT during an East Helena ceremony on Dec. 31. 

     “This is just a phenomenal opportunity for us to create a long-term legacy,” Scott Walter, chair of the East Helena Public Schools board, said. He added later it was a great education opportunity for students.

     In a Helena Independent Record article, PPLT’s Mary Hollow said six of the eight miles are now dedicated for the trail. She said PPLT is still working with private landowners on the remaining two miles, and added the 322 acres was a “real crowning point of the project.”

Photo: Prickly Pear Land Trust Executive Director Mary Hollow discusses the latest developments for the East Helena Greenway Project. With her is John Beaver, the land trust board chair. Gary Marshall, BMGphotos

New Research Provides Glimpse Into Transboundary Pronghorn Migration

Migrating pronghorn don’t have an easy road, even if times they actually use roads. An article in Lee Newspapers provides information from a new study about a pronghorn herd that has made roughly the same migratory trek between what is now eastern Montana and Alberta for 30,000 years, and documents the kind of habitats needed for the migration to be successful as well as the barriers that make the annual trek so challenging.

The Nature Conservancy in Montana is among groups and agencies that have been working with landowners in eastern Montana on projects such as wildlife friendly fencing to foster wildlife movements.


LWCF and GAOA Enter 2021 With Good News and Full Funding

      While there was bad news on the syndication front, the final omnibus appropriations bill Congress passed for FY21 contained good news for implementation of and funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Great American Outdoors Act.

     From a National LWCF Coalition email: Congress has done it right, rejecting the Administration’s flawed proposal in favor of balanced allocations among LWCF subprograms, the full original project list we requested, and in fact more than $900 million for conservation and recreation! This is a great reminder that the $900M authorized for LWCF was always intended to be a floor, not a ceiling, and Congress is still free to add to it. 

     CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL ON THIS CAPSTONE TO AN AMAZING YEAR OF SUCCESS. It is all a result of your longstanding, meticulous, incredibly strong efforts on both sides of the aisle to put LWCF on this path to realize its true promise, and empower all the phenomenal work we know it can do. We’re so excited to push this potential to the max starting in 2021!

     From an E&E News article: Tom Cors, the director of government relations for lands at the Nature Conservancy, agreed and said: “The bill affirms the full potential of the Great American Outdoors Act and puts it in full swing. We are grateful Congress provided balanced funding for all outdoor spaces.” 

     The entire text of the Department of Interior portion of the bill is available here. Projects in Montana identified by lists provided by the National LWCF Coalition include: Lower Musselshell River Conservation Project (BLM), Montana National Wildlife Refuges and Conservation Areas (USFWS), Kootenai Forestlands Conservation Project (USFS, Forest Legacy), Bad Rock Canyon Conservation Project (USFS, Forest Legacy), and Lolo Trails (USFS). 

Land Board Unanimously Approves Proposed Somers Beach State Park

     The Montana Land Board unanimously approved Montana FWP acquisition of 106 acres that will ultimately become Somers Beach State Park, a proposal led by Flathead Land Trust that expands and solidifies public access to the north shore of Flathead Lake. FLT has organized support for the project, working with FWP and the Sliter family (current owners of the property) to move the proposal through to land board approval.

     From the Flathead Beacon article: The proposal on Flathead Lake’s north shore east of Somers would codify access to a popular half-mile, 106-acre sandy expanse that has long conducted through a handshake agreement with its owners. Under the proposal, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) would acquire the land for the creation of a state park, and as a way to permanently conserve wildlife habitat while continuing to allow public recreation.

     The Sliter family that owns the property began eyeing plans to protect the area earlier this year, and is working in concert with FWP and the nonprofit Flathead Land Trust in an effort to finalize the deal, which has gained broad support. 

Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Projects Advance

     The Dec. 7 MALT newsletter reported that the Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team agreed to fully fund three proposed sage grouse conservation projects (conservation easements), and that four additional easements were approved at less than full funding, with an uncertainty of if those four projects remained viable.

     The good news is that on Dec. 14 MSGOT learned The Montana Land Reliance and the landowners it partnered with, and The Nature Conservancy in Montana and the landowners it partnered with, were able to make the projects work within the confines of a roughly 18 percent reduction in requested funding. All told, in 2020 MSGOT approved about $4.2 million to permanently conserve over 24,000 acres of important sage grouse habitat, thanks to MLR, TNC and landowners supportive of conservation.

MLR’s Future Montana Committee Shares Conservation Perspectives

     What does conservation mean to you?

     Several members of The Montana Land Reliance’s Future Montana Committee answer that question in a new video posted on social media and on the MLR website. The video features lush images of conservation benefits such as wildlife habitat, clean water and agricultural production, and thoughtful responses from folks like Gusty Clarke, Cole Mannix, Errol Rice (shown here), Ben Christensen, Jess Peterson, Brian McCurdy, Nick Bucklin, Freddy Avis and Jessie Wiese.