By Myers Reece, 12-30-12
||Caption: Mouth of Yaak River at confluence with Kootenai River. Purcell Mountains, Kootenai National Forest, Lincoln County, northwest Montana. - Contributed photo by Randy Beacham
In a deal praised by both of Montana’s senators, the Trust for Public Land and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have completed a 28,000-acre conservation easement on Stimson Lumber Company timberland near Troy.
The easement, which cost $12.8 million, permanently protects the land for public recreation while safeguarding it from development and allowing timber harvesting to continue. Local sportsmen, wildlife groups and recreationists have voiced support for the project.
“This is a win-win for everyone,” Alex Diekmann of the Trust for Public Land said in a Dec. 19 statement announcing the deal. “This means almost 44 square miles of prime fishing and hunting grounds will be forever accessible to Montana sportsmen.
“It also guarantees the land will remain part of the sustainable timber economy of this area in northwestern Montana.”
The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit with an office in Bozeman, brokered the deal and FWP will hold the easement, meaning the agency is responsible for management and monitoring. Stimson will continue to own the land but can’t sell it off for subdivisions.
The easement covers pieces of land stretching from the south end of Bull Lake, north through the Lake Creek Drainage to Troy and northwest along both sides of the Kootenai River to the Idaho border. The area is popular for an array of recreational activities, including hunting, fishing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, wildlife viewing, snowmobiling and horseback riding.
Much of the land is located only minutes from Troy. According to the Trust for Public Land, the project area is the largest block of privately owned property in the Cabinet-Yaak Recovery Area, which is one of six designated grizzly bear recovery zones in the lower 48. It’s also crucial habitat for bull trout, elk and redband trout, Montana’s only native species of rainbow trout.
Modeled after easements elsewhere in Northwest Montana, the deal emphasizes a balance between conservation and commercial uses. FWP holds similar easements on Plum Creek land in the Fisher and Thompson river areas, as well as the Swan Valley.
Ray Jones, vice president of resources for Stimson Lumber Company, says he looks forward to the “continued partnership” with the Trust for Public Land, FWP and local residents.
“Stimson Lumber is very pleased to complete this conservation easement,” Jones said. “This easement assures continuation of working forests into the future while also providing special consideration for wildlife.”
Funding came from multiple sources, including a $6.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. That money was derived from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is funded through receipts from off-shore oil and gas drilling leases.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition grant program contributed $4 million, while additional funding came from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust and a donation of land value from Stimson.
Jim Williams, regional wildlife manager for FWP, says the easement is a “great example of private groups and agencies working together for the benefit of Montana’s wildlife and outdoor recreation enthusiasts.”
“Thanks to the support from our federal funding partners, Stimson Lumber Company and the Troy community, these 28,000 acres will remain a treasured recreational resource for generations of hunters to come.”
Montana Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have been vocal advocates of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and pointed to Stimson easement as an example of the fund’s importance in conserving valuable lands.
Baucus called the deal “a victory for Montana timber jobs and sportsmen that will pay dividends in the long haul.” Tester said that expanding public access “while creating timber jobs and safeguarding one of Montana’s most treasured places is smart policy that deserves our support.”
“I appreciate the Trust for Public Land bringing folks together to strengthen Northwest Montana’s economy and ensure responsible access for sportsmen and women,” Tester said.
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