Land Trusts and Forest Management

Ray Creek, photo courtesy Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

The Montana land trust community partners with private forest landowners, industrial forest owners, public forest management agencies and others to help improve forest management efficiency, forest health, expand recreational access to forest lands and strengthen the economies of local communities.

Some brief examples of recent land trust forest health projects involve The Nature Conservancy in Montana, The Trust for Public Land, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The Vital Ground Foundation, and Five Valleys Land Trust. Please feel free to contact these organizations (and other MALT members; full contact information is available on the Membership page) for more information.

Steve Gnam Photo / Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy in Montana

For four decades, The Nature Conservancy has worked across Montana to protect critical forestlands and waters, and in partnership with forest landowners, industrial forest owners and public agencies have conserved over 1.2 million acres of land through a combination of easements and acquisition. Over the past 20 years, the Conservancy has been stitching Montana forests back together—reconnecting critical habitat and removing the checkerboard pattern of ownership—so that future generations can continue to work and play in these special places. The Conservancy is committed to combining rigorous science with community input to develop management plans that will protect and restore these forests for the long-term. By listening to and partnering with others, the Conservancy is mapping out a future where resilient Montana forests enable nature and people to thrive.

The Trust for Public Land’s Haskill Basin project is an excellent example of a partnership that produces multiple benefits well beyond the important value of sustainable forest management. Haskill Basin, located near the City of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake, provides 75 percent of Whitefish’s drinking supply and was prime for development. TPL worked with the landowner— Stoltze Land & Lumber Company, the city of Whitefish, Whitefish residents, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and others to conserve over 3,000 acres to protect drinking water, continue forest health while providing logs to mills, maintain wood products jobs and economic stability, conserve wildlife habitat, and ensure public access and recreational opportunities. The bottom line: Almost five square miles of forestland is conserved in the backyard of Whitefish as that forestland remains part of the vital local timber economy.

Photo Courtesy of The Vital Ground Foundation

Five Valleys Land Trust, based in Missoula, is actively working with local landowners, forestry consultants, community members, recreationists, local governments, public agencies, and others on the Mount Dean Stone forest management plan. Mount Dean Stone is located on the outskirts of Missoula, and a plan that includes active forest management to reduce risk of wildlife, increase forest resiliency, strengthen tree species diversity and improve forest health—all the while accommodating diverse year-round recreational opportunities—is a topic of broad community conversation. Five Valleys is also working to help ensure first responder telecommunications facilities located at Mount Dean Stone are protected from wildfire.

The Vital Ground Foundation Alvord Lake Community Forest Project combines multiple partners and multiple resource management goals. The Alvord Lake Community Forest, located north of Troy in northwest Montana, combines grizzly bear habitat conservation with community goals, local cooperation, forest health and forest management, recreational public access and long-term stewardship of the property. Local residents wanted to maintain recreational access and wildlife habitat, and worked with Vital Ground, volunteers from the Society of American Foresters and others to create a forest management plan and provisions within the USFS Community Forest Program that accomplishes wildlife habitat, forest management and outdoor recreation goals.

Photo by Trust for Public Land Staff/Kristin Kovalik, Senior Project Manager

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a land trust based in Missoula that works throughout the U.S., is a vocal champion for active forest management, improved forest health, and enhanced big game habitat on public lands. Among the many efforts RMEF has led to expand recreational access and improve management efficiency of public lands is the Falls Creek project near the Rocky Mountain Front. The Falls Creek project permanently opens access to the beautiful Falls Creek area and ensures access to 26,000 acres of public land along the Rocky Mountain Front. Key project partners include the Barrett Family, the Lewis and Clark County Open Lands Program, the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and others.

These are representative examples of land trust leadership and land trust partnerships designed to improve forest management, assist local communities, and generate multiple benefits across the state.