Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has begun a public scoping review of the Montana Great Outdoors Conservation Project, a 113,951-acre proposal that would conserve lands surrounding the Thompson Chain of Lakes and strengthen and extend existing protection of the 142,000-acre Thompson-Fisher Conservation Easement and the 100,000-acre Lost Trail Conservation Area.
The Flathead Beacon reports FWP is accepting public comments through March 4. The Montana Great Outdoors Project received unanimous preliminary approval from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission to perform due diligence on the proposal, and comments received from this public review will help FWP determine public interest and support, identify potential issues, and provide insight for refining the proposal or for developing and analyzing one or more alternatives.
The Montana Great Outdoors proposal is a collaboration among FWP, The Trust for Public Land,SPP Montana, and Green Diamond Resource Company.
From the article:
If approved, FWP would hold the conservation easement while SPP and Green Diamond would maintain ownership of the land. The easement would preclude development on those lands, protect important wildlife habitat and landscape connectivity, and provide public access and associated recreational opportunities. The U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, the Habitat Montana program, and grant funding raised by TPL would be likely funding sources if this proposal were to proceed.
The project is the most recent strongly supported forest conservation project in northwest Montana that retains permanent public access, maintains forest health and sustainable forest management, provides open land and wildlife habitat conservation, and restricts development of the property.
From the article:
As part of the Forest Legacy funding application process, FWP has received letters of support for the proposal from a diverse mix of interests, including: the Lincoln, Flathead, and Sanders county commissions; Montana U.S. Sens. Steve Daines (R) and Jon Tester (D); the Kootenai National Forest; the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; and local timber companies.
Announcing the agency’s support for the easements early on in the negotiations, FWP Director Hank Worsech said “these projects reflect the good collaboration and stewardship that help define Montana.” Both of Montana’s U.S. senators also offered a bipartisan endorsement of the proposed deal, which has enjoyed support from sportsmen groups and conservation organizations alike.
The project would conserve key winter range and a movement corridor for elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and moose. It would provide critical habitat for grizzly bear and Canada lynx, federally threatened species found on the property, and protect streams for the westslope cutthroat trout and Columbia River redband trout, both Montana species of concern.
Photo: An aerial view of the Thompson Chain of Lakes and its surrounding forestland. Courtesy of Chris Boyer of Kestrel Aerial