Identifying what they wanted was pretty easy; land managed to deal with weeds and wildfire, keeping the acreage open to public use, and no development. Getting to those solutions is another matter.
“This group has the opportunity to do whatever they want to with this piece of property,” Greg Poncin told the 440-Committee at a recent meeting in the basement of the Saddlehorn building. Poncin is the Kalispell Unit Manager for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
At stake is 440acres of school trust land encompassing Cougar Canyon in Woods Bay. The DNRC manages the land in a trust for the Montana Tech School of Mines. The idea of a sale of the land into the states’ Land Banking program was spurred by the Chancellor of the School of Mines as a way to generate more funds from the property – an area the DNRC hasn’t secured permanent access to, and includes steep terrain that both neighbors and the DNRC say is less than ideal for logging.
This Committee is a conglomerate of interested individuals including both private landowners and the US Forest Service. They’ve been sitting together around a table discussing potential solutions. A key issue is access.
“Our job is to come to the table and look at permanent access,” explained DNRC planner Annie Moran, “because we’re not just planning for the next 5-years.” Moran explained that as trustees managing this land, they need to keep their options open to maintain maximum flexibility for land use.
Kevin Gownly and Jim Frizzell are part of a group of landowners neighboring this 440-acres. They’ve granted temporary access to the state before. Granting permanent access, and the 60-foot-wide road DNRC lists as necessary for management does not make an attractive option for them.
The potential for a land swap with a separate entity like the Nature Conservancy or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, or a public entity like the US Forest Service was put on the table by the end of the meeting. Members left with the plan of researching possible partners or new ideas for planning tools to attain their solutions.
“It’s up to us to do that,” said Gownley, “that’s the purpose of this group – to solve this problem.”
The next meeting is October 22nd in the basement of Saddlehorn. From that meeting, the committee hopes to have some potential partners identified so they can start on the next step: negotiations.
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